If Replay Is Wrong, Baseball Shouldn't Want To Be Right

Brian JosephCorrespondent IMay 22, 2008

How many fans, media members, coaches, and players have to beat the drum for instant replay for Major League Baseball to finally wake up?

It's been a bad week for umpires in the majors over the past four days.  First, Carlos Delgado hit a home run on Sunday night that was first called a home run and then erroneously reversed and called a foul ball.  It didn't help that the game was on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and shown over and over...and over again. 

Then, Monday's Astros-Cubs game ruled a Geovany Soto hit to not be a home run but replays showed it was.  Soto had to settle for an inside-the-park home run instead, causing Soto to exert a little more energy than he needed to lay claim to the home run he rightfully had earned.

Last night, Alex Rodriguez lost the 53rd multiple home run game of his career when umpires missed another one.  Rodriguez's "homer" bounced off a set of yellow stairs beyond the outfield wall and back onto the field giving the umpires an opportunity to miss another one.  Rodriguez had to settle for a double.

The umpires' conference after the hit still failed to get it right but after the game the boys in blue got to see the replay and admitted afterward, they got it wrong.

"We want to be perfect.  We weren't perfect tonight," said crew chief Tim Welke.

None of these calls affected the outcome of the game, luckily.  But that cannot be said for every botched call. 

Earlier this season, the Phillies lost a game in extra innings directly impacted by a foul ball being called a home run.  As tight as the NL East looks this year, this bad call could be a difference maker.

Braves star Chipper Jones is for it, White Sox GM Kenny Williams voted for it at every general manager's meeting since the subject came up, and Marlins' Mike Jacobs, who lost a home run on May 7th on yet another bad call, is for it, too.  Astros manager Cecil Cooper weighed in on the side of replay, too.

There are questions that need to be answered. 

The biggest one is, what instant replay should be used for and how is it to be implemented?  Consensus says replay should be available for home runs only while some feel it could be used for close plays on the base paths or to determine whether balls are fair or foul.

Traditionalists fear it could go too far. 

The typical argument against instant replay is the fear it could someday be used for checking balls and strikes.  Computer analysis shows that current umpires are 95% accurate calling balls and strikes (meaning they "only" get about 15 pitches wrong per game).

There are even a few players that are still on the side of keeping instant replay out of the game.  Mets closer Billy Wagner feels that the mistakes are what makes the game good and feels the game needs the "human element."

The biggest obstacle replay has is Major League Baseball's obsession with speeding up the game.  After last year's playoffs, highlighted by long games that ended so late that some fans complained at the time the game ended.  As recently as this week, commissioner Bud Selig (who has been against replay) issued a memo to umpires and team officials to follow the rules on the books to keep the game moving. 

Although, a well planned replay system would prevent drawn out umpire conferences followed by equally drawn out arguments by whichever manager has a call go against him.  The decision to reverse Delgado's home run on Sunday followed by the subsequent argument from the Mets' dugout took at least two minutes to unravel.

For the pro-instant replay movement, there is good news on the horizon. 

On ESPN.com today, Jayson Stark reported that Major League Baseball is making tentative plans to try out replay in the Arizona Fall League.  GMs are already behind using it for home runs.  They voted 25-5 to explore the use of replay in the offseason.  This would put baseball on track to join football and all of the other professional sports that have implemented replay.  It's only been 23 years since football started using replay—no rush!