Trying to get Major League Baseball to do anything new and different is like trying to explain the Internet to your grandparents. It’s frustrating, takes way too long and in the end nothing changes and you still get letters from your Grandma asking how work is. Baseball has had a long sorted history with accepting anything other than the game of Ruth and Cobb. In fact the only time Baseball will make a snap decision on any actual change is when they know it will make them more money; hence the added one-game playoff this season. An oddly progressive decision made in a flash after casual sports fans became elated with the last day of the 2011 season.
So, it came as no surprise to anyone that it took decades for Baseball to seriously consider instant replay, and even more time for them to implement it, AND EVEN THEN it was only approved for one aspect of the game. In 2008, Baseball officials finally gave the OK for instant replay to be used for controversial homerun calls. While that’s a fantastic move forward, the approval doesn’t go far enough and it’s critic’s arguments are weaker than one-ply toilet paper. ONE-PLY!
1) Bud Selig and the Bosses of Baseball will complain that we should trust the umpires to make all the decisions, and he’s all but declared that the day instant replay will be used for balls and strikes will be the day he dies.
2) Baseball Fans will complain that instant replay makes an already slow-moving game even slower. Losing more ground to the faux American pastime of football.
Now, these arguments aren’t without merit. But, they are weak. You’ve already read my one-ply comparison, so you know how weak I think they are. ONE-PLY! So, let me address these in order, while trying not to rip through the thin paper meant to keep us sanitary. Ok, fine maybe this analogy is running dry. No pun intended.
1) The human element in Baseball has always been one of pride. Sure, for over a hundred years there was no technology to help make decisions, so humanity had to be the lone judge. But, as technology did improve and games began to be televised, and then televised with two cameras and then ten cameras, and so on. With so many angles even the casual viewer could see for themselves if a call was suspect or not. When the application of instant replay came around not only could you see if a call was suspect, you could even make your own informed judgment about it. You could see for yourself when the umpires got it right and when they got it wrong. Since the mid-90’s more and more games became televised locally and nationally and instant replay became the staple by which we held the games accountable. The problem was we held them accountable in our living rooms, with our friends and families. We had the satisfaction of knowing that we would have won that game if the umpire had gotten that call right at first base. But, the umps didn’t know until later – when they saw the replay. Instant replay seemed like it was invented so fans could gripe about athletic injustices at the water cooler, instead of what it should have been invented for – getting the right call on the field. When football and basketball started using it in the 90’s it became obvious that Baseball was just being the same old stubborn game that seemed to do everything it could to push fans away. They didn’t want to open the door to questioning umpires fallibility and exposing them for sometimes being wrong. And, that’s the thing that made Baseball look stupid, if not just plan silly – every fan could now see on replay after replay that collectively the umpires are at best correct 80% of the time over the course of a season. Sometimes worse, sometimes better, and by all accounts doing something spot on 80% of the time is better than most people do at their jobs. I mean, let’s be honest the best Baseball hitters in history only did their jobs well 30% of the time. Umpires have been and will continue to be wrong some of the time and we can never expect them to be any different. Their humans, they have emotions and thoughts and aging eyes. They can make mistakes just like you or I, only their mistakes are in front of thousands sometimes millions of people. 80% is an amazing job, but why not help them out with the other 20%? Just in the last couple of years we’ve seen pitchers lose perfect games, pitchers complete no-hitters, playoff games won or lost all on calls that should have been overturned IF that was actually allowed. Which, gets to a deeper problem: If the umpire can clearly see five minutes after a game that he made the wrong call, why can he not overturn the ruling in protest? It’s because Baseball doesn’t want to ever admit that they were wrong, and they always want to appeal to your sense of nostalgia. But, we live in a new era. One where improvement can be reached with the flip of a switch, and with increased exposure the risk of it all collapsing is too great. The one thing I do agree with is never using replay for balls and strikes. That could get very tedious, especially since the strike zone itself is never visible. Even the arbitrary lines set up for ESPN’s Strike Zone or MLB.com’s Gameday seem inconsistent and off. Arguing balls and strikes takes enough time as is, and it’s only ever controlled the outcome of a big game maybe two or three times in recent memory. So, with the exception of balls and strikes, instant replay should be used for everything: homeruns, fair/foul, tag outs, and ties at the base. This brings us to number two…
2) This year I went to a Giants V. Padres game and Bochy asked the umps to review a call. They obliged, and then ran off the field to look at the replay. When this happened a guy next me said, “This is stupid, just keep playing!” I asked why he thought it was stupid and he replied, “It slows everything down. This game can be boring enough without all this nonsense.” We talked a little more about it and I can’t say he’s wrong. However, this comes with an easy and simple fix. Now, I know in the NFL the refs leave the field and review under cover of dark so no one can see what they’re seeing (probably watching The Hangover). This is theatrics and in a fast-paced ridiculous game like football you can stand to hang on a minute while they review the call. The biggest challenge Baseball has right now is speeding up its brilliant albeit archaic game. So, you place a crew of one to two umpires directly behind homeplate or off to the side of the home dugout. They’re sole job is to sit in front of a monitor(s), which has access to every possible video feed and angle, and watch the game. When there is a challenge or a review called for, the crew chief heads over to the monitor umps to get their ruling. This means that while Bochy was doing his Frankenstein walk, these monitor umps could already be reviewing the last play with every angle to see what the right call was. By the time the crew chief walked over a ruling would be made and the game would keep on going with the call upheld or overturned. This is not rocket science and if ESPN can show me five different views of one play within thirty seconds of it happening, then dammit MLB should be able to as well. This would keep games at the normal pace if not speed them up a bit by saving the manager from screaming at the ump. This makes sense and covers all bases. Pun intended. If you’re actually worried about the time of an average game (which hovers around three hours) then I’d ask you to make noise about pitcher’s speeding things up between pitches, or batters getting more regulation on their ‘in-between-each-pitch-rituals’. In that same Giants V. Padres game I referred to earlier, a reliever for the Giants, George Kontos, began the bottom of the 5th inning at 8:05pm. He ended the bottom of the 5th giving up no hits and one walk at 8:28pm. This is not a joke or an exaggeration. This is also not acceptable. By the end of that inning I couldn’t have cared less about the game. My mind had wandered so far away I was trying to figure out if I could start a company that made volcanoes.
Instant replay is a necessary commodity and needs to be fully realized in Baseball. Until it is fully implemented and streamlined we’ll have players be denied career-defining achievements, which not only affects their place in Baseball history, but future monetary gain. Umpires are fallible, because we are all fallible. They are not special because they graduated from the Harry Wendelstedt School. They are not special because Baseball tells us they are. In fact, most of the time a bad call can haunt them more than the player. Why risk all that to try to uphold a tradition that no one cares about let alone really believes is a tradition at all. It’s time for Baseball to catch up with the rest of sport and start treating its fans with a little more respect. Because right now, the 30-something on the couch five Coors Lights deep is more informed than the guy in black paid to keep the game honest; And, that’s a problem you can see from any angle.
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