Gabe Morales: Did He Just Give The MLB Every Reason To Make Check-Swings Reviewable?

Image from YouTube:

Isaac Sullivan

On Thursday night, the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers—the two best teams in the MLB with each having historic seasons for their franchises—fought in a winner-take-all game 5 in the National League Division Series. With 6.5 million viewers, game 5 generated the largest audience of a league division series game since game 4 of the Yankees-Red Sox series back in 2018. Throughout the game, both teams struggled to mount an offense, making every call that much more crucial. 

Entering the ninth inning with the game tied at 1-1, the Dodgers answered with a run in the top half of the inning. The Giants had just three more outs to keep their historic season alive. Brandon Crawford popped up a fly ball becoming the first out of the inning.  Kris Bryant was able to reach first base on a fielding error by the Dodgers third baseman, Justin Turner. After working a 2-2 count, LaMonte Wade Jr. struck out, putting the Giants’ season on the shoulders of Wilmer Flores. 

Photo from YouTube:

Back in July, Flores hit a clutch two-run homerun off of Dodgers closer, Kenley Jansen, to give the Giants a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth inning. The Giants ended up winning that game 4-2. Knowing how close the race to the top of the division had been throughout this season, this proved to be a vital moment between these two clubs. Stepping into the batter’s box, Flores knew he was truly capable of achieving just about anything. 

Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer pushed Flores into a corner, putting him behind with an 0-2 count. But what happened on the third pitch of the at-bat will forever leave the Giants organization—and their loyal fanbase—playing the what-if game. First base umpire, Gabe Morales, called strike three on a check swing, snuffing out the Giant’s dreams of moving on to the National League Championship Series. After several reviews of the called check-swing, the majority of the public, including the game’s announcers, agreed that Morales had made the wrong call. Morales himself admitted just after the call that “check swings are one of the hardest calls we have. I don’t have the benefit of multiple camera angles when I’m watching it live.” There was no doubt that Morales made the wrong call. 

Millions of baseball fans came together to scrutinize the call by Gabe Morales. Some went as far as editing Morales’s Wikipedia page to assert that Morales had suddenly become “legally blind.” Morales made his major league debut as an umpire only seven years ago. Despite his relatively short career, Morales has made many questionable calls, and he has made these calls at some of the most significant times in baseball games. 

In April of 2019, the Chicago Cubs hosted the Anaheim Angels. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs were down 6-5. They had two runners in scoring position. And they were down to their last out. Kyle Schwarber, who is no longer with the Cubs, brought the at-bat to a full count. Angels closer Cody Allen, threw a ball in the dirt, which would have resulted in a walk to load the bases, but Morales insisted Schwarber had swung instead. Although Schwarber’s swing was closer to a full swing than Flores’s swing had been, it was still a questionable call. Immediately after the game-ending call, Schwarber sprinted toward Morales full of rage, but his teammate Javier Báez was able to hold him back.  Schwarber’s reaction punctuated the absurdity of Morales’s call, with the announcers stating, “That’s as upset as we have ever seen him.” 

Not only has Morales struggled with his check-swing calls, but he has also struggled with other calls, too. Earlier this year in June, the Red Sox faced the Yankees. The game was tied at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, but the Yankees had runners at first and third with two outs. The batter up was Rougned Odor,  and the count was 2-2. Matt Barnes delivered the 2-2 pitch, but it missed the plate by several inches.  Rather than calling the pitch a ball, Morales quickly called it the third strike. Odor dropped his bat and stood at the plate in disbelief. As the announcers reviewed the pitch, one simply said, “Oh my, not even close.” 

It’s a cliché to say that we are all human and that we all make mistakes. And as true as that may be in life, we simply have to insist on higher standards in the MLB, especially with so much on the line for the players, the team franchises, and the fans. Gabe Morales’s call was inexcusable. Indeed, only days after Morales’s screwy call against Flores, newspaper sports writers wondered if the time had now arrived to introduce robot umpire technology into MLB games. While robots may be far-fetched at this point, Morales’s call may lead to other reforms with check-swing calls. Perhaps the time is ripe to make the calls reviewable. Whatever happens next, one thing is certain: check-swing calls should not allow one umpire to mistakenly end a hard-working team’s postseason in an instant. We can’t allow that to happen again.