As I’m sure everybody knows by now, Instant Replay is now a part of baseball. After the umpires managed to repeatedly find themselves unable to determine whether a ball went over the fence or not (really?), the outcry got loud enough that everyone (except the umpires) wanted to do something to make sure the calls get made correctly. So the umpires grudgingly obliged, and will now go through a ridiculously convoluted and mysterious process to review calls. I have a few problems with Instant Replay as it was implemented.
- The replay will not be shown at the stadium, meaning that the fans, players, and managers will be completely in the dark as to what the umpire may or may not have seen to overturn the call. If there’s a questionable home run call and you’re sitting around for a few minutes wondering what happened, does it fill you with confidence when the umpire appears from behind the curtain and says “Yes, it was a home run after all. Trust me. Oh yeah, game over, you lose.” If you’d seen the video, there’s at least the chance that you could be non-homerish and see that the call was right (or that the umpire is still wrong).
- Replay will be used only at the umpire’s discretion. Managers cannot “challenge” plays (much to the amusing chagrin of Lou Piniella), they can only “request” a review, and the umpires are free to deny this request. Basically, if the umpires think they got the call right, it won’t be reviewed — and the umpires always think they’re right. Is anyone confident now?
- Questioning the decision of the umpire results in summary ejection. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this rule — arguing with the results of the review should result in ejection, because it’s pointless and delays the game and they’re obviously not going to review it again and re-reverse a call. But consider it in the context of the previous two bullets: The managers and players haven’t seen the replays, so they don’t know what happened; if questioning the umpires results in summary dismissal, then I’d expect it to happen often when a call goes against a manager and he doesn’t know why. Secondly, the managers can’t “demand” a review, they can only “request;” if they are too forceful, they can be ejected. This is going to be pretty farcical.
- The system relies on its enemies to carry out the plan competently and effectively; the umpires don’t want replay, and it was forced on them. All they have to do to make it a “failure” is to do a bad job: refuse to review questionable calls, refuse to overturn calls that they thought were right on the field, offer no visibility into their decisions, eject players and managers for “arguing” about replay, et cetera. If the umpires don’t buy into the system, there needs to be an authoritative person/committee above them to administer replays and override the dubious authority of the umpires.
When Ryan Howard beats out a grounder with two outs late in a tie game, scoring a run to take the lead — oh wait! The umpire incorrectly called him out so the runner doesn’t score and the Phillies lose. This has clear and immediate implications on the playoffs in the NL East and Wildcard.
AJ Pierzynski stupidly runs from second to third on a grounder to short — after a brief rundown he turns his head, reaches out to slap a defender, and falls over as if he’d been tackled. The umpire calls “obstruction” and awards him third base. Men on first and third with one out is a whole lot different than a man on first with two out — the White Sox won two batters later, which has clear and immediate implications on the playoffs in the AL Central, East and Wildcard.
But the AJ Obstruction Scandal gets even more delicious. The umpire in question was Doug Eddings, who as a general rule does nothing but get calls wrong. (If he’s umpiring, you can be sure that both teams are going to get screwed regularly; the guy just never seems to know what he’s doing.) After the game, Eddings was shown a replay of the play, and he immediately thought he’d made a mistake:
Mike Port, MLB’s vice president of umpiring, told the St. Petersburg Times on Thursday that it was “a missed call” and that in making the split-second decision, Eddings thought he saw runner A.J. Pierzynski “impeded more than he was” by Aybar, the Rays’ third baseman.If only there was something we could do to get calls like that right, so the winners of games — and perhaps the teams in the playoffs — are decided by the play on the field rather than the umpires. Perhaps Instant Replay should apply to more than just boundary calls, but to questionable mistakes made by umpires?
“Looking back at that occurrence, for the first and last time, it was a missed call,” Port said. “And it was not because Doug Eddings, an umpire with 10 years’ experience and 10 before that in the minor leagues, didn’t know the application of the rule, but just that in the moment in applying the rule, he saw something he thought was more than it turned out to be.”
Most of the commentary I’ve heard about this question goes back to “The Human Element.” On Fox’s “Crappy Hour Before the Game Starts” segment on Saturday afternoon, that irritating woman who sits next to Mark Grace said “I’m old fashioned, and I’m all about the Human Element. Why do we need replay at all?” What is the Human Element, and why do people think it’s a good thing?
Umpires make the wrong call, unfairly benefiting one player or team over his opponent, and this is accepted because … ? Status quo? To err is human? Mistakes are acceptable? Since when is minimizing the importance of the players and their feats on the field in favor of decrees by masked bureaucrats an American Tradition?
Bud Selig insists that Instant Replay will never be more than boundary calls, adding that he hates technology and just got a computer last year. Congratulations, Bud, but you’re supposed to be the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, a $7 billion company, not the Commissioner of The Association for Troglodytic Luddite Baseball Fans. Don’t brag about the fact that you’re trying to run the show while being unable to figure out your email program — especially when Eric Hosmer might lose his contract because the Commissioner’s Office was communicating with the Pirates … and apparently are incapable of receiving two phone calls (or emails) at once. Selig doesn’t need to pander to his base of technology-fearing old people — he should probably be trying to popularize the game among a younger demographic that is comfortable with technology and has plenty of disposable income. But I digress — I shouldn’t let Bud Selig’s deliberate and malicious incompetence distract me. This is about baseball. About the integrity of the game. And about the umpires ruining that integrity by consistently making the wrong call.
The calls should be right. Umpires have an increasingly difficult job — parks get bigger, smaller, more unique; players get bigger and faster, they hit and throw harder than ever. An umpire can’t reasonably be expected to have 100% accuracy on a call determined by milliseconds and fractions of an inch — especially when he’s looking at it from hundreds of feet away. If there were some technology that would aid the umpires in making correct calls such that the players determine who wins, how can that possibly be worse than allowing the umpires to stubbornly stick with what has “always worked?”
The Human Element. Stubbornness. Caring more about job security than competence. Why idolize this stupid behavior.
Fix Instant Replay: Make it separate from and above the umpires, and use it for everything.
The Human Element? The players are already human.
(Now someone please print this out so Bud Selig and the rest of The Association for Troglodytic Luddite Baseball Fans — more commonly known as Major League Baseball — can figure out how to “read” it.)1 comment