Replay is good, needed first step
Baseball steps forward on Thursday, flailing around a little as baseball always does with change, when instant replay is introduced for the first time in the game's long, well-chronicled history. And it's hard to argue that this isn't a good move for the grand but sometimes stodgy old game. Really, who's not for getting calls right?
But now that commissioner Bud Selig has opened that creaky door, now that every ballpark in the big leagues will be equipped with a happy spot that an umpire can enter to see quasi-instant replays from every available angle save for the one that Uncle Louie nailed with his camcorder in the second deck, you have to wonder where the game goes from here. This is very limited replay that Major League Baseball is instituting mid-stream. It's for determining home runs on so-called "boundary" calls only; whether the ball went over the fence, or around the foul pole, or whether some New York pre-teen touched it before an Orioles right fielder had his chance to rightfully make a catch.
How long, though, before baseball is asked to look at whether a ball was trapped in one of those mattress-sized outfielders' gloves, or whether a ball hit the foul line deep in left, or whether, say, a certain deviously clever catcher for a certain South Side Chicago team was really interfered with on the basepaths?
These are dangerous, techie-filled waters in which baseball has dipped its toe. How long before somebody, ripped off by an umpire's incorrect call that is deemed un-reviewable, goes for the whole foot?
"I guess it's sort of like the wild card years ago, where there were people criticizing it, and now they want more wild cards," said Selig, in announcing Tuesday one of the biggest changes in the game since Ron Blomberg first stepped to the plate as a designated hitter in 1973. "Just because you do something and it works well, you don't go on to do more. You leave it at this."
Selig, 74, was adamant that baseball's decision to go to the replay will work, and he was just as adamant that it will stay in this limited form, not venturing into other areas. "Not as long as I'm the commissioner," he said.
But we all know, as soon as a wrong call changes the outcome of a game -- it happens more than anyone wants to admit -- the cry to expand replay will be heard. And it'd be hard to argue against that, too. Because, really, who's not for getting calls right?
Baseball made a smart, calculated move in finally allowing replay to become, on even these limited occasions, a tool for umpires. The proposal was voted on last November by general managers and passed overwhelmingly (25-5), gained momentum during a spate of missed calls earlier this year and, now, here we are. Replay will be available in three series that begin on Thursday. From then on, until somebody changes something, it will be a potential part of every game everywhere.
Selig, who says he takes to change slowly but who, in reality, has done more to shake up the game than any commissioner in history, decided to go with the flow when he was convinced that calling a home run a home run has become increasingly difficult. The umpires' jobs in the newer parks, especially, has been trying, with quirky dimensions and odd outfield setups (flowers on the fence?) adding to the difficulty.
With technology improving almost daily and the proposed new replay system in place -- the crew chief, at his discretion, can enter his ballpark happy space and call a central office in New York to send him replays on a disputed call -- Selig backed his GMs and pulled the players and the umpires together to ram through the decision. He doesn't even mind, he says, that it's starting without a dry run. "This is not Einstein's Theory of Relativity. It's straightforward," Selig said. "There was no reason to wait. There was no reason not to implement it. I wanted to do it as soon as possible."
Now, though, there's no turning back. This is a good first step. A needed one. But the last one, the only one, as Selig suggests?
No. No way. It might takes years for the next step -- baseball is like that -- but once that door is opened, you can't help but watch for what comes out.