MLB Instant Replay in 2014: Removing Beauty by Perfecting America's Pastime?

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MLB Instant Replay in 2014: Removing Beauty by Perfecting America's Pastime?
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Major League Baseball has announced an expansion of its instant replay review for the start of the 2014 season, should it pass a 75 percent vote by owners this November. So should we all rejoice at the perfecting of America's Pastime?

Not exactly.

You can call me a baseball traditionalist, old-fashioned, nonconformist or even rebellious; but I love baseball—MLB, Little League, College, etc.—because of the beauty of its imperfections. 

Part of what makes a Perfect Game (for example) so special—there have been only 23 in the history of the sport after all—is the way in which everything comes together that day.

A diving-catch with two outs in the seventh inning and a called third strike on a borderline low pitch are as integral to achieving baseball immortality as a hurler's performance.

Just three years ago, Jim Joyce famously—well, infamously—"cost" Detroit Tigers Pitcher Armando Galarraga his 27th-straight retired Indians batter.

Perched behind the security of our computers, granted the luxury of our televisions' broadcasting replay after replay of a bang-bang play and, perhaps, unwilling to admit some of our own shortcomings, many of us supremely chastised Jim Joyce.

The only thing missing was the raising of pitchforks and torches as the townspeople chased a tearful, apologetic Joyce into the woods (somewhere in Detroit, maybe). 

Baseball is grounded in imperfection. It is much more than the advanced statistics and fantasy teams over which we constantly obsess and endlessly consume.

It attracts us for a larger reason we may overlook at times: baseball is a reflection of the imperfection of human beings. The living legends of the ballparks across America are beloved and admired because they fail only seven out of 10 times at the plate. 

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Fans who find themselves bemoaning the marathon affairs between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox may not enjoy breaks in game action to correct, or prove, a call. As the New York Times reports, Commissioner Bud Selig is already slightly concerned about the "possible slowing of games." 

The Times further describes the challenge-based system for the upcoming season (think NFL coaches' challenges):

Managers will be allowed one challenge over the first six innings of a game and two from the seventh inning until the completion of the game. Calls that are challenged will be reviewed by a crew in MLB headquarters in New York City, which will make a final ruling.

A manager who sees a call he feels is incorrect can file a challenge with the crew chief or home plate umpire. Only reviewable plays can be challenged. Non-reviewable plays can still be argued by managers, who can request that the umpires discuss it to see if another member of the crew saw the play differently. Reviewable plays cannot be argued by the manager.

Challenges not used in the first six innings will not carry over, and a manager who wins a challenge will retain it.

Such a long-winded bureaucratic process may rid the game of those nuances that make it part of America's fabric. Gone forever may be the days of MLB managers kicking dirt at umpires, (literally) stealing bases from the field, and imaginary grenade-throwing meltdowns in protestation of perceptibly-blown calls.

Here to stay may be formal handshakes between former friends and foes, managerial nose-tilting after correct challenges and, oh yeah, the ultimate public humiliation when an MLB skipper impetuously uses his privileges and is seen to have cost his team, if not a loss, something called a challenge.

All this need for perfection in the most imperfect of games removes some of baseball's beauty.

As Heraclitus one said, "You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing in."

We may come to enjoy halting a game in order to check with league headquarters on historically-subjective judgement calls to ensure accuracy. But we may ultimately come to regret allowing managers to step in to baseball's waters too many times, altering the ebb and flow of a ball game, and changing the course of the baseball universe.

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