No need for further review: Baseball needs replay instantly
It was a bad week for umpires, a bad week for tradition and a bad week for this increasingly strange affinity in some corners that getting a call wrong -- and not a judgment call, but a nuts-and-bolts call -- is somehow part of the mystique of baseball that ought to be preserved. In a six-day span in three ballparks, umpires ruled four times that a home run was not a home run, even though the rest of us, with the benefit of a second look, knew quickly and certainly that they were legit dingers. How exactly is this good for baseball?
So, sorry about that, Carlos Delgado, Geovany Soto, Alex Rodriguez and Ben Francisco, all of whom were robbed of home runs, the same as Mike Jacobs was earlier this year in another blunder. (Soto, though, legged out his otherwise sure home run for an inside-the-park homer.) You learned painfully the answer to the question, when is a home run not a home run? When baseball inexcusably refuses to use instant replay to undo blown calls.
Commissioner Bud Selig, your time to act is now. General managers voted overwhelmingly, 25-5, six months ago to pursue the practice of using instant replay to clarify so-called boundary calls, when umpires need help in determining a potential home run. Major league managers, with little exception, have endorsed the concept. Fans like the idea and are accustomed to technological help. So why in a high-definition world, when technology brings us better and better looks at the game, when Major League Baseball itself brags about the ability to measure the break on a curveball almost to the millimeter with hardware and software that would make the aerospace and military industries proud, is baseball dragging its feet?
Word came that baseball may give instant replay a test run in the Arizona Fall League. Now there's a grand idea. Test it out in tiny minor league parks with almost no fans in attendance and skeleton TV crews. It's akin to road testing a Lamborghini in a school zone. And what exactly needs to be "tested"? The technology? Take the home run Delgado lost at Yankee Stadium. You knew in about 15 seconds that it should have been a home run.
What Selig should do is push the umpires and the players association to sign off on instant replay immediately, to be instituted after the All-Star break. Baseball embarrasses itself with each blown home run call in the interim and risks a playoff race decided by a clear-cut injustice. Why can't they see what the rest of us see?
One theory is that Selig and the baseball establishment don't want to slow down the game. Replay in these cases, however, might actually speed up the game. Say goodbye to those long arguments when teams try to convince the umpires to overturn the call. Baseball needs to borrow from the NHL model and assign designated replay officials to immediately review replays and send word to the field of the proper call. Those officials could sit in a central office in front of a bank of television monitors carrying all games, or they could be assigned to the each ballpark with access to TV feeds.
You don't want managers to have a hand in this. You don't want them throwing red challenge flags, because we all know it would become another weapon of gamesmanship for managers. Instead, think of the replay official as the fifth umpire. Just as the umpires huddle now and ask one another, "What did you see?" they will be asking that of the "fifth umpire" with access to the video. The call is quick and it is binding. When was the last time you saw a tennis player argue with HawkEye?
Resistance also is wrapped up in this idea that you don't want to remove the "human element" from baseball. Nobody is looking to replace umpires with robots. Nobody wants to review every pitch on the black or every bang-bang call at first base. This is one narrowly defined usage.
And the umpires are on board with this. I've talked with umpires about the difficulty in making such calls and they don't mind the technological help. They are being asked to make a split-second call, sometimes on the run, sometimes as far as 200 feet away, sometimes choosing between a strike and a home run, and they're asked to do so in parks that increasingly bring fans and signage closer to the ball's flight. They want to get it right. They don't need the awful feeling of knowing the video will go viral in exposing their mistake.
Selig should be praised for moving the game forward in other areas: expanded playoffs, advanced media, a forthcoming cable network, time-of-game issues, etc. Instant reply is not in cutting-edge territory here, folks, unless baseball is so hidebound by tradition that common sense is considered avant garde. It has become as clear as the hi-def picture on a 1080p plasma television. We don't need another week like this, nor another day, nor more proof that the technology works. The time to act is instantly.
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