In the top of the first inning Sunday at Wrigley Field with a runner on first base and two out, Chris Volstad threw a 3-2 pitch to Garrett Jones. Jones hit a ground ball to Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney, who is an excellent fielder -- so excellent, in fact, that he recently set a National League record for consecutive errorless games. Through Saturday, that streak stood at 130 games, just 11 short of the major-league record for a single season, set by Placido Polanco (then with the Tigers) in 2007.
Here's what happened on that ground ball:
Now, I am a Cubs fan, and I am a Darwin Barney fan. That play is an error; Barney is sure-handed and makes that play with ordinary effort (the general standard for determining errors) 100 out of 100 times.
But official scorer Allan Spear gave Garrett Jones a hit. There's an appeals process for things like this, but who's going to complain about that call? Not Barney or the Cubs -- that extended the errorless-game streak. Not Jones or the Pirates -- Jones got a hit on the play.
Allan Spear is a fill-in scorer at Wrigley Field. The usual scorers -- Bob Rosenberg, a scoring veteran, and Don Friske, a former sportswriter -- were apparently not available Sunday, so Spear, who is director of sports operations at STATS Inc., scored the game, something he does several times a year in place of Rosenberg or Friske.
It's not the first time Spear's been involved in a controversial scoring call at Wrigley Field -- in fact, it happened as recently as last June:
The high fly was hit to short right in a game last month at Wrigley Field, where the wind can play havoc. Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia and right fielder Darnell McDonald seemed to surround it. At the last moment, Pedroia did not lunge but twisted to put his glove up. The ball hit the center of the pocket and popped out. The Cubs’ batter, Starlin Castro, pulled easily into second base and another runner scored.
In the press box, the official scorer, Allan Spear, credited Castro with a double. In the ESPN broadcast booth, two former players, Orel Hershiser and Terry Francona, expressed surprise.
"That’s an official scorer that a lot of hitters are going to like," Francona said. It was his not-so-subtle way of saying that Spear had blown the call.
Here's the point of this exercise. Why are calls that affect individual and team statistics given to people who are not league employees? I'm not specifically accusing Spear of bias here, but he isn't necessarily an impartial observer, either. In some cities, retired sportswriters like Friske are regular official scorers; their close connection with the city or team might have them slightly lean toward the hometown player on a close call.
To me, the solution is obvious: add a fifth umpire to the crew, a league employee who is by definition an impartial arbiter of the rules. Yes, I know -- some umpires blow calls and can be seen as biased, but most do their jobs well and do not favor teams or individuals. In addition, the fifth umpire could be employed in each ballpark for the purpose of replay review. The "booth umpire" could either be permanently set there, or rotate with the rest of the crew.
Obviously, this would be an extra expense for Major League Baseball. In my opinion, the expense would be worth it. Instead of local people as scorers, you'd have a standardized, league-wide system. You'd think umpires would be in favor of such a plan -- extra umpire jobs, you know. Teams and players, you'd think, would also like a system like this, because it would remove any air of favoritism on scoring decisions, which could also be backed up by replay review.
Darwin Barney's errorless streak is intact, thanks to a wrong-headed, possibly hometown-biased, scoring judgment. He might well break Polanco's single-season mark, or even the multi-season record (186 games, also held by Polanco). But because of Spear's mistake, the mark will be tainted. Baseball can fix this problem, and should, sooner rather than later.