SPORTS WATCH | Instant Replay in Baseball Is the Beginning of the End
by Gus Jarvis
May 25, 2013 | 2509 views | 0 0 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Of all the professional sports, Major League Baseball is the one sport that doesn’t need to be overwhelmed with instant-replay rules and breaks.

The debate over how much video replay baseball should have – which is a never-ending and ever-evolving debate – was reignited last week when a committee went before MLB owners and presented ideas about expanding instant replay. Right now, MLB only uses instant replay to review whether or not a batted ball is a home run. It was instituted in 2008, and for many it doesn’t go far enough.

The committee, led by Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and John Schuerholz, told the owners that the game would be improved if instant replay also covered fair or foul balls, and plays in which it was unclear if a ball was caught or trapped. In fact, the committee said instant replay could be expanded even more, perhaps by 2014, in other areas of the game not including balls and strikes. It seems the committee wants to use human judgment on balls and strikes but leave it to computers and televisions to call the rest of the game.

“We are considering much more than the trap play and fair-or-foul,” Torre, who is the vice president of baseball operations, told SI.com.

Nothing was actually decided at the presentation. Commissioner Bud Selig apparently liked the presentation but wasn’t ready to jump in quickly. The presentation did seem to signify, though, that some instant replay changes were almost a certainty for 2014.

Torre said he was “hopeful” something could be done but that he’s “not going to send something out there just to meet a deadline as opposed to trying to get the best possible way to do this.”

So let’s just say baseball is going to implement some new instant replay rules. If it doesn’t happen next year, I’d bet it will happen the following year. When it does happen, the question won’t be what is reviewable, but rather how will they review it? Will it be the umpires under a hood every 10 minutes or so reviewing TV footage of plays? Perhaps all reviews should be handled by a baseball control center in Cooperstown, New York, similar to what’s done in the National Hockey League. SI.com suggested something similar to the Hawk-Eye system used to make line calls in major tennis matches.

However baseball decides to review calls, the system must be quick. Baseball is already a slow game and it doesn’t need to be prolonged any longer. Imagine one of those games where you have one of those very, very slow-working pitchers on the mound. Then you have a batter who steps out of the batter’s box after every pitch to readjust his gloves. Then you get an inning early in the game, say the second inning, where the pitcher gets blasted for six runs. Then you have bullpen pitching changes every other inning throughout the rest of the game.

This type of game – we have all seen them – can be excruciatingly slow. Add a few reviews of close calls and it will be an even longer game. The game doesn’t need to be any slower.

Proponents of replay will tell you that calling the game accurately is more important than the speed of the game. I admit to agreeing with that notion, but will it cost the game fans? Of course, I’ll still end up watching those long, slow and replay-ridden games, but it doesn’t mean I am going to like it. 

I do, however, think there is a compromise here.

If the game is going to slow down even more, baseball has an opportunity to interact with the fans watching that game. Dan Patrick recently said baseball should have on hand an umpire guru like Fox Sports does with former NFL referee Mike Pereira. During Fox NFL games, they go to him to explain the rule and what the referees are looking at during the replay. He also gives a pretty good opinion on what should be the call.

Major League Baseball could do the same thing. While a play is under review, go to the MLB umpiring guru for his opinion on the matter. It’s not exactly riveting TV but it gives you something to think about.

I’d like to take it a step farther than that. If MLB is really going to add more instant replay, they should just go all-in and fire each and every umpire and replace them with technology. Use cameras, base sensors, an electronic sensor in each ball, and simply let computers make every call. When a ball flies over the fence, the sensor in the ball will know exactly where it went out and if it’s a home run or not, instantaneously. (I have always wanted this technology in a football to give us exact readings on touchdowns and first downs.) The sensor could tell immediately if it’s a foul ball or not. The foul pole would light up red if it’s foul and blue if it’s fair.

A sensor embedded in each base would be able to take a snapshot of when the runner steps on it, while the ball will know when it enters the glove. Close calls on the bases could be decided instantaneously.

Lets use the camera technology to call balls and strikes too. Every stadium has them; let’s make them official.

If baseball would just go all-computer technology, with no human umpires, it would be the sport on the cutting edge, full of flashing lights, lit-up bases and electronic strike-zone calls. It wouldn’t even resemble baseball any more.  Who cares, though, right? It would be 100-percent accurate and 100-percent no fun. Who doesn’t love a good umpire argument anyway?

I say let’s learn from all those Terminator movies we have been forced to sit through all these years and keep instant replay out of Major League Baseball, for now.

 

gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com

Twitter: @Gus_Jarvis

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