After Tuesday’s ending, there have been some calls for instant replay expansion, such as from our own esteemed Matthew Kory. It would be a mistake to act on these ideas.
There are, in my opinion, two sides of an argument to oppose the expansion of instant replay: one logical, and one emotional. I will address both of these sides.
First, the logical tack. Instant replay has been implemented for home run calls. If an Umpire believes a call may have been incorrect, he may go to the booth and look for overwhelming evidence to reverse his call of fair or foul. This is an appropriate reform of baseball’s rules. If the ball is a home run, the runners advance home, and there is no possibility of any other outcome. If the ball is foul, the batter returns to the box and the runners return to their bases, again, with no possibility of a disparate result. There is no harm in instant replay review of home runs.
Now, let’s consider a situation with instant replay on a ball in play. For example, let’s say there are men on 1st and 2nd, and a player lofts a ball down the right line…foul. Except it was fair. Now what? If the ball is concluded to be fair by instant replay, where do these runners go? What if the right fielder botches the play off the corner and it gets by him for a triple? What if he makes a spectacular throw and nails a runner at the plate, or at third? What if a runner trips rounding second and is out by a mile? What if? What if? These are situations that won’t be fixed by instant replay, and if we’re just going to implement the “most likely” situation, then baseball will become not only cold and robotic, but also far less interesting and authentic.
This leads me into my second argument: the emotional one. Robots behind the plate? Live plays reversed and challenged by instant replay? Balls and strikes dictated by electronic impulse? This is ridiculous! You know what it reminds me of? American football. I’m sure we’ve all seen a great play in football run down, when…a flag, holding, call it all back, start again, pretend it never happened. If baseball ever becomes as icy and antiseptic as football, I don’t know what I would do.
Let’s talk about the balls and strikes. Robots calling balls and strikes? Buzzers that signal to umpires if some computer thinks it’s in the strike zone? Junk! An umpire’s unique strike zone is one of the best parts of baseball as hitters and pitchers figure it out and go forward. And it’s not like umpires are calling pitches three feet off the plate strikes and right over the heart of it balls – they are damn good at what they do. Inconsistent umpires are the ones who should be held to task – and I believe they are. Just because we don’t get to see the umps publicly pilloried doesn’t mean they are unaccountable. But the men who call the game are just as vital to it as the players.
Baseball is meant to be played on a warm summer day, in a park, with the ballplayers we know and love (or revile) day in and day out! It is the most human of all sports. And one thing that makes baseball such a joy, like it or not, is ol’ blue. I have heard before that no one pays to watch the umpires, and that is not true. We do not pay to watch Joe West be a jackass, or Angel Hernandez puff out his chest like an overstuffed peacock. But we do pay money to watch a game of baseball officiated by consummate professionals, men so dedicated to their craft that at their best, they are invisible arbitrators who watch the field and seldom make a mistake. Yet the game of baseball is still a game of men, not computers, and umpires make mistakes. Men like Don Denkinger and Jim Joyce are as much a part of the game as Bill Buckner. Their failures are another piece of baseball’s rich tapestry. Umpires should not try to become the game – but they are a part of the game, and should be an appreciated part. Love them or hate them, the Umpire is part of the greatest game in the world, and no robot should take that away.