Starting next year, Major League Baseball (MLB) will institute limited Instant Replay to decide close plays and the, on the whole, rare missed-calls by its professional umpires. I say Boooo! While all of us want all the calls to be right so the deserving team wins based on its true merit, Instant Replay will ruin practically the last thing in America that isn't ruled by technology.
In short, Instant Replay will assuredly damage our National Pastime. This is why:
1) Baseball is known as a "game of inches." A hitter being called safe or out on a close play can make the difference between victory and defeat. Whether a hitter went "around" and actually swung at a pitch -- a matter of an inch, more often than not -- can be the difference between an inning-ending strikeout or a walk-off home run on the next pitch. The amount of challenges demanded by fans (and managers) in this "game of inches" won't stop at the three now proposed by MLB. Baseball is a game of never-ending close plays, but in most games, the good and bad calls even out. An infinitesimal amount of games over baseball's many decades have been played over the years but very few under protest because of a bad call.
2) Controversy is a boon to the sport, not a hindrance. Baseball's folklore is filled with discussions and arguments over controversial plays. Baseball fans still talk about "The Jeffrey Maier Play" in the '96 playoffs or whether Reggie Jackson intentionally allowed a ball to hit him, breaking up a double play in the '77 World Series. This is the stuff of baseball legend -- the stuff people reminisce about with phrases like, "I remember where I was when Ed Armbrister supposedly interfered with Carlton Fisk's throw to 2nd base in the '75 Series or the non-strikeout of A.J. Pierzynski in the 2005 American League Championship Series. Controversy - without the resolution provided by the latest technology -- helps enshrine the folklore of the game. It engenders the passion of the game decades after the actual play took place. Instant Replay would severely water down that experience. If there were Instant Replay during the World Series of 1932 we would all now know for absolute sure that Babe Ruth did or did not point to center field, "calling his shot" against Cubs pitcher Charlie Root. The reason Ruth's "Called Shot" is still talked about today is precisely because we don't know whether he actually called it! The dimension of controversy, so important to the lore of the game, would be a thing of the past if Instant Replay was implemented.
3) One of the arguments for Instant Replay is that the technology is here to be able to get the calls right. What happens when the technology of invisible lasers is available (if it isn't already!) that can call balls and strikes -- all judgment calls -- eliminating the need for a home plate umpire? Will technology then take over the entire game? Is it not conceivable that every "call" in the near future will be made from the press box using the latest technology?
4) Part of the fun of the game is watching a manager argue with an umpire who he feels made a bad call. It's exciting to see a manager thrown out of a ball game. It's one of the things that gets fans "up" in a game. With Instant Replay it becomes a much calmer, less exciting game. I'll take the passions of the managers over the years like Earl Weaver and Tommy Lasorda over a video operator any day!
5) Finally, what's this fixation we have with making sure every single call is right? What baseball teaches us is that, like in a real life, if something doesn't go our way, even if it's unfair, we have to make the best of it and move on. To try to win despite the bad breaks! It's why baseball, the way it has always been, is a good lesson to adults and kids alike: the game, like life, doesn't stop to determine fairness at every turn. We've all heard the old adage "Life is unfair." Well, so is baseball sometimes. It moves along despite the rare bad call. The best judgments are made by the well-trained "judges" on the field, the umpires. They sometimes get it wrong but much more often, and with phenomenal skill, they get it right. Most ballplayers will tell you that over the course of a game (and certainly an entire season) the calls even out.
So, Major League Baseball, tread lightly now that you've entered the world of instant replay. They say, marijuana is a gateway drug. In that vein, I fear the limited use of replay in baseball will lead to much greater use of it in the not-so distant future. In a "game of inches", the challenges allowed each team will eventually be increased and the game will bog down. Machines will have won, not the fans.
The great game, as it is has worked for 146 years. Fans watching the Cincinnati Reds in 2013 at The Great American Ballpark are experiencing baseball in basically the same way fans did who saw the Cincinnati Red Stockings at Union Park in 1869. Why change something that is already so good by instituting a policy sure to change the game's natural, almost poetic flow?
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Umpires reviewing the call at a command center in New York studied the play from several angles and after 2 minutes 20 seconds rendered their verdict: out.
When Major League Baseball instituted the replay system last year, it was to correct calls that led managers into dirt-kicking, base-throwing, cap-tossing fits with umpires: a bang-bang play at a base, a ball that landed within a whisker of the foul line or foul pole.
And so, it seems, baseball will never have to worry about controversies like Don Denkinger’s call at first base that robbed the St. Louis Cardinals of the 1985 World Series or Jim Joyce’s missed call at first that foiled Armando Galarraga’s perfect game in 2010.
But the system has also created an unintended consequence: teams that vigilantly watch replays to see if a player’s foot loses contact with the base for an instant.
“In some ways, it feels like you’re getting a speeding ticket for going 60 in a 55,” Hinch said. “But by the letter of the law, that’s how it’s played, and until they change the rule, we’re obviously going to play that way.”
As sports have increasingly turned to video technology to correct decisions that umpires and officials have gotten wrong, they grapple with when to stop. Digging deeper can lead down a rabbit hole where truth and justice diverge.
“We’re micromanaging stuff that never would have brought a protest for a team on the wrong side of the call for 100 years,” the broadcaster Bob Costas said. “The one that strikes me as ridiculous is, let’s hold the tag for the one one-thousandth of a second the runners foot might have left the bag. This is outside the spirit of the rule.”
The N.F.L. was among the first to embrace replay technology, but it has occasionally led to a pretzel-logic administration of the rules, such as the infamous Tuck Rule game, when New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s fumble in the 2001 playoffs really was not. Or the tangled rewriting of rules for when a catch is a catch, which introduced the opaque term “football move.”
The N.B.A. has also found itself in trouble when officials make a call that is equitable but does not strictly follow the rules. When Golden State’s Draymond Green bumped the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul and knocked the ball away from him and out of bounds in the 2014 playoffs, a referee awarded the ball to the Clippers rather than two free throws, a sort of playground justice. But when replays showed the ball had glanced off Paul, the call was reversed and the ball was given to the Warriors. The next day, the N.B.A. said a foul on Green should have been called.
One sport that seems to have found the proper balance is tennis, which has one issue: Was the ball in or not? The replay takes a few seconds, is shown on stadium video screens and has become part of the fabric of the sport for players and fans.
One play that baseball has deemed unreviewable is the so-called neighborhood play, where a middle infielder must be only in the neighborhood of second base when coming across the bag on a double play. This was done for safety, so a fielder had a better chance to avoid a sliding runner.
There is no such leeway for runners leaving the base. As a result, Hinch said the slap tag, where a fielder quickly gets his glove in and out of the runner’s path to the bag — a technique that can avoid injuries — has largely been replaced by a tag that is held firm.
Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy said the team’s infield coach, Tim Teufel, emphasized holding tags on sliding runners during spring training.
“If they’re safe, they’re safe,” Murphy said. “But if they happen to pop up then you’ve got the tag there.”
Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers was nearly caught off second base that way by Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the 14th inning of Game 2 of their American League division series. Odor rounded second on a hit to right and beat right fielder Jose Bautista’s throw behind him back to the bag. But when the play was replayed slowly, Odor’s foot seemed to leave the bag for an instant. Replays zoomed in and went frame-by-frame as if it were the Zapruder film, providing rich detail of the bottom of Odor’s spikes.
Odor was ruled safe, and would score the winning run.
“We’re not talking about a guy oversliding and there’s a perceptible space,” said Costas, who broadcast the game for the MLB Network. “Until this high-def, super slow-mo, freeze-every-frame replay, guys have been safe on these plays since Abner Doubleday — and they should stay safe.”
Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons said, “I’m not sure that’s what they intended replay for.”
It was another instance during this year’s playoffs when umpires’ applications (or lack of them) of picayune details of baseball’s rule book have come under scrutiny for creating potentially series-altering moments.
The wipeout slide by the Dodgers’ Chase Utley broke the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in the division series, earning him a two-game suspension that is under appeal. The umpires on the field did not rule Utley’s act to be out of bounds.
The perhaps unscrupulous gave way to the downright bizarre, like when Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin’s throw back to his pitcher deflected off the bat of the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo, allowing the go-ahead run to score in Game 5 of their division series. After much debate, and much to Martin’s chagrin, the umpire Dale Scott ruled (correctly) that the runner on third could score. Much to Martin’s relief, the Blue Jays rallied to win.
When Gore was caught by replay, it had the potential to be as impactful. It was the third out of the seventh inning in Game 4, and the Royals, facing elimination, trailed, 3-2. After the Astros scored three times in the bottom of the inning, the Royals came roaring back in their final two at-bats for a 9-6 victory. They won the series on Wednesday.
“I’m not a big fan of replay overturning calls when a guy pops up off the bag,” Royals second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “I’d rather see whether the guy beats the ball there. As a fielder you’re just trying to get the guy before he gets to the base. That’s the name of the game.”
Zobrist also noted that the bases themselves are hard and slippery. It is easy to pop up from the base and lose contact with it for an instant, he said. Consider then how hard it is for a runner like Gore, who has been clocked at 22 miles per hour racing to second base, to slide and stick to the bag.
Beating the camera is not as easy as beating the throw.
“Without replay I was safe for sure,” Gore said. “To this day I don’t really know what happened. I was out, so I’m out.”Continue reading the main story