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Major League Baseball needs instant replay

A debate has been raging for a number of years now about the role instant replay should play, if any, in Major League Baseball. For purists, the idea is nothing short of sacrilegious. Others like me believe Major League Baseball must have a process to challenge and correct the calls that are egregiously wrong or to review game changing plays that are too close to call with the naked eye. The NFL, NHL, NBA, PGA, and other professional sports organizations all use instant replay for one purpose or another. The MLB should as well.

Since baseball's inception, the umpire has always had the final say on calls. Guided by his professionalism and experience, he calls the plays as he sees them. It's this human element that baseball's purists say embodies the heart of baseball. As Jimmie Bise puts it, "[b]aseball is a game played, and officiated, by humans. The core tenets of baseball are that life is not fair, that you will fail far more often than you will succeed, and that skill is important but perseverance is more important." I understand Jimmie's point, and it sounds very noble and heroic. But Major League Baseball is not a moral.

As much as traditionalists insist otherwise, baseball is very much like every other professional sports organization. It is a multi-billion dollar operation with the players' salaries, careers, reputations, and years of dedicated training on the line. Baseball's millions of fans spend billions of their hard earned dollars each year to see their favorite teams play and to purchase their memorabilia and clothing just as other sports fans do. And when a team's owner wants or needs a new stadium, it's the local taxpayers, most of them fans, who pony up much of the cash to build it.

Needless to say, massive amounts of public and private money and capital are spent on and invested in the game, yet its fans don't expect that much in return. They just want to know that the players give everything they've got in every game they play and that umpires call the plays honestly and with as much accuracy as possible. In other words, fans must be confident that the game is authentic. And the vast majority of the time it is. However, as every baseball fan knows, plays on the field have been known to break out at lightening speed, with many of them impossible for any human being to see. When this happens, the umpire is left with no option but to call the play based upon what he believes happened in that crucial split second. It becomes even more problematic when history turns on how that one play is called.

This is precisely what happened to umpire Jim Joyce the moment he called Jason Donald safe at first base in what baseball fans everywhere prayed would be the final out of Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga's perfect game. But it only took a few seconds for the commentators, players, spectators in the park, and millions of fans watching on television to see what Jim Joyce was not allowed to see: the slow motion, full color replay that clearly showed Jason Donald did not beat the ball to the bag. Through no fault of his own, Joyce made a bad call and turned what the rules dictated should have been an historic game for the record books into just another regular season game, albeit a thrilling one. The problem was the umpire wasn't allowed access to the information required to make the accurate call for a play he could not see, and as a result Galarraga was denied a spot in the official MLB record books, an accomplishment he earned through years of hard work, sacrifice, and a dedication to being the best.

Many of baseball's purists offer as consolation that the game was true to its purpose because both Galarraga and Joyce were made better men from the experience. I'm sure they were. Clearly both men reacted with grace and class to a very difficult situation. But fans didn't spend their money, time, and energy to watch what amounted to a glorified self-help exercise.

No one is served when Major League Baseball denies its professional umpires the necessary tools to make the right calls on tough, impossible to see plays. Not the players, not the umpires themselves, and certainly not the fans, who are the reason the game is played in the first place. If Bud Selig and other purists insist that romance, sentimentalism, and theater remain a higher priority than the game's authenticity, the franchise risks losing credibility.

Baseball must be authentically played and called. Bud Selig needs to expand the use of instant replay in Major League Baseball.

Jayson Stark explains what instant replay in baseball might look like if it is applied judiciously.

Cross-posted at KimPriestap: No-nonsense conservative opinion


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Comments (19)

The country needs an instan... (Below threshold)
recovered liberal democrat:

The country needs an instant replay of election 2008.

Personal opinion, leave as ... (Below threshold)

Personal opinion, leave as is. If you're going to 'instant replay' one, then ALL get it. Let's see how many extra hours that ads to 'the excitement of the game'. Of course all those umps will have to get new jobs.

Galarraga will still be recognized, probably more so because of THE ASTERISK and explanation.

Great idea, Kim. And we cou... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

Great idea, Kim. And we could have two lawyers standing behind each base, one for the team at bat and one for the fielding team too, ready to file briefs on every effing play. Then we could also have a Federal appellate circuit court to decide to take briefs under consideration and ultimately decide each play, or at least the ones that don't get cert from the Supreme Court.

Oh, and get rid of the DH b... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

Oh, and get rid of the DH bullshit too. This over-specialization is becoming like football. Pretty soon we'll have hitters who specialize in hitting on 2-2 counts against sinker ball pitchers, and don't do anything else.

Its a game. You cannot fix... (Below threshold)
Zelsdorf Ragshaft III:

Its a game. You cannot fix the moment by going back and changing something that happened in the past. If you change that, how about Tom Brady's fumble in the snow game against the Raiders or the immaculate deception with Franco Harris being the second offensive player to touch the ball?

"Many of baseball's puri... (Below threshold)
Geoffrey Britain:

"Many of baseball's purists offer as consolation that the game was true to its purpose because both Galarraga and Joyce were made better men from the experience. I'm sure they were."

Kim, why would you deny that opportunity to the fans?

Or do you suppose that baseball and life's lessons are only for the players and umps and not for the spectators...

The 'lesson' was for everybody involved.

The umpire's view wasn't ob... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

The umpire's view wasn't obscured, he misjudged what he did see, as he admitted later. My first thought was the ruling was the pitcher didn't have possession of the ball, it could have jumped in the glove and there was no replay angle which showed that clearly. To his credit, the ump manned up and told the truth - he just blew the call.

Now, sure, instant replay is used in football and basketball for certain things at both pro and college level. Notice how long those reviews take. This isn't likely to work in baseball. Even giving each manager one challenge per game could be problematic, but if it is to be done, that could be the best way.

BUT on a related matter, it is no longer sensible to allow umpires to call balls and strikes. Too many have their "own" zones, and even with emphasis from MLB few will ever call the high strike even now. We do have the technology to have the computer set the zone exactly for each player and measure whether each pitch crosses it. The result is instant,a and the umpire would still call it out for the battery and fans, but all error would be out of it.

Poor calling of balls and strikes affects the game much more than the occasional mistaken call at first. If we are to turn any part over to the Machine, it should be the one we know it already gets right.

Is it going to make the gam... (Below threshold)

Is it going to make the game that much longer though? How long to those instances where the manager comes out to yell at the umpire take? Are those stoppages? Two or three calls a game would add only a miniscule amount of time to a game. Especially if you limited the circumstances it coudl apply to.

In computerized baseball ga... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

In computerized baseball games such a wrong call would be considered a bug in the software and users would be clamoring for a fix. In real life the game of baseball teaches a lesson that "officials" make mistakes and people just have to live with them. For example, lawsuits that put manufacturers of silicon breast implants out of business, yet the same product subsequently gained FDA approval again on the basis of overwhelming scientific evidence. We now have an FDA approved medical device that has been proven in the courts to be harmful. The scientific fact and the legal finding of fact are at odds, but the public and its government seem fine with that incongruity.

Instant replay is the camel's nose under the tent. Next comes changing the results of games and championships based on evidence of cheating such as we have seen when Olympic medal winners admit to drug use. When the "correctness of the record" of baseball becomes that important then baseball is no longer a pastime.

Instant Replay in baseball?... (Below threshold)

Instant Replay in baseball? - Hell NO!

Not only does it change the game but as already better stated by another, it removes the valuable lessons it can teach. People make mistakes, ch1t happens - deal with it or work to overcome it as best you can.
Life isn't fair.
The better players\product\whatever etc doesn't always succeed.

The fact this is even being discussed cause of one blown call is insanity.

As a great comic once said,... (Below threshold)

As a great comic once said,
"Baseball been bery bery bad to me."

The only baseball I've seen in the last decade or so has been on replay and then only momentarily as I changed channels.

I don't care what they do and the empty seats disguised as fans indicates that I am not alone in my low opinion of a game that is played by under productive overpaid drama lama's that couldn't hold a productive job in the real world.

The game that I grew up with in the 60's and 70's has morphed into something that I no longer care to watch or go to.

"The game that I grew up wi... (Below threshold)

"The game that I grew up with in the 60's and 70's has morphed into something that I no longer care to watch or go to."

You hear of the multi-million dollar salaries, you get stiffed at the gate with outrageous prices, they shake you down to make sure you're not smuggling in food items (but hey, open borders are fine!) - then you get held up for $5 for a 16oz beer. Yep, it's a great game!

And the FUNNY part is that the owners complain that they're LOSING money!

I for one am sick and tired... (Below threshold)

I for one am sick and tired of people expecting to get a "do-over" every time something doesn't go the way it should. If people want ballgames called perfectly, we should see about recruiting God Almighty to umpire them.

But I don't think we'd like the penalties for violating the rules of the game.

I wasn't EVEN going to ment... (Below threshold)

I wasn't EVEN going to mention prices.

I lived in Atlanta in the mid 90's and saw some great live games at the old stadium and then a few at the new one. It got to the point that I wouldn't buy anything from the vendors unless it was a requested item for friends or relatives because of over inflated prices.

I think they should leave t... (Below threshold)

I think they should leave the call as it is. Baseball is a human game, rich in history, not an exercise in computer engineering. It is a game that is not just just about wins and losses, balls and strikes, hits and outs, but also about the human story that takes place. This game will forever be enshrined in baseball lore as the "Ump-In-Perfect" game and will be long remembered for the human story it tells. Instant replay or overturning the call, would relegate it to just another perfect game on the statistical list. Which is not a bad list to be on, but will never hold the historical significance of this game.

I will have a rebuttal late... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

I will have a rebuttal later today.

bryanD: "I agre... (Below threshold)
bryanD: "I agree with kim."
If I were Kim, I'd rethink my position based solely on that.
bryanD: "I agree with ki... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

bryanD: "I agree with kim."

If I were Kim, I'd rethink my position based solely on that.

No kidding. No clearer indication of error could possibly exist.

It's like having your foreign policy proposal endorsed by Jimmy Carter. Time for a rethink.

@ ak4mcI for one am ... (Below threshold)

@ ak4mc
I for one am sick and tired of people expecting to get a "do-over" every time something doesn't go the way it should.

I posted this same sentiment on another site the other day. Baseball isn't a do-over game by any means. If any wants to be truly judicious about instant replay in any physical sport one must factor in the consequences of changing every aspect resulting from that judgment.
This solitary incident has many people up in arms that don't really have knowledge of the history of sports in general.
True sports - ball and stick games - are reliant upon physical abilities of the athletes who play. They have grown up in their respective sports free of instant replay. They have known for years the officials have the last word.
Instant replay "officiating" was instituted for high dollar professional sports to appease the fans - who have been watching instant replay for years on TV. Very few people would have any opinion of this one call if it hadn't been on TV and then posted on YT for the world to debate about.

If some guy in a bass fishing contest has a huge fish on a hook and it breaks the line does he get a do-over just to make it fair? How would they approximate the size of the fish? Could they come close using instant replay?
It gets truly ridiculous.






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