Part of Gary Cederstrom's job as a home-plate umpire is to keep track of the count for every batter, no matter what the scoreboard or any television graphic might indicate. But last night, with Adam Dunn batting with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the fourth, Cederstrom apparently got caught up in the moment of a forgettable late-September game between the Blue Jays and White Sox. Which is to say, he let his mind wander.
According to the on-screen graphic at the start of the video, the count was 3-1. But one of the WGN broadcasters said it was 2-1. After he swung and missed, Dunn can be seen telling Cederstrom he thought the count had become full, after which another one of the WGN announcers agreed. Everyone was confused. So Cederstrom got on a dugout phone and found someone who'd been paying attention to tell him what the count was. (Answer: 3-2).
Of course, it's easy to laugh at Cederstrom's gaffe, as it always is any time the rest of us see, with the benefit of hindsight, what umpires or referees so glaringly miss, often in a split-second moment. And Cederstrom, the crew chief and a veteran with 17 seasons of MLB service time, is no stranger to making on-the-spot mistakes. Last year, in a Braves-Tigers game, he called Johnny Damon out on a game-ending third strike with the bases loaded when a different call would have resulted in a game-tying walk. Cederstrom later acknowledged he had erred—and that he had known he was wrong as soon as he called Damon out:
Replays showed the full-count pitch from Peter Moylan was outside. A walk would have tied the game.
"My timing was fast," Cederstrom said. "Whenever you have fast timing as an umpire, you usually get in trouble."
Last night, Cederstrom took his time. Yes, the game got stalled and WGN's announcers got to harrumph and chortle over the delay, but it's worth noting that Cederstrom used technology to get the situation rectified. It's a wonder, really, that umpires don't lose track of the count more often. Maybe MLB should take note and consider the advantages of expanding instant replay. And maybe MLB should have included the footage of Cederstrom falling as he came up the stairs to return to the field, as one of the announcers described toward the end of the video. Now that would have been funny.