Replay In Baseball: What Each Side Is Saying

Torrey LaffoonCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2009

DETROIT - OCTOBER 1:  Orlando Cabrera #18 of the Minnesota Twins throws the ball try to turn a double-play as Marcus Thames #33 of the Detroit Tigers slides in to break up the double-play as Brandon Inge #15 is safe at first during the fourth inning of the game game on October 1, 2009 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

(This article originally written as a research paper)

Baseball has been America’s game for nearly two centuries and has been played professionally since 1869. Baseball’s impact on American culture and history is close to immeasurable. You would be hard-pressed to find an American today who hasn’t heard of the likes of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax. This fact – that baseball’s history is so rich and that today’s game is still so rooted in its past – has had many positive and negative effects on Major League Baseball as a business, as well as a sport. Fans are divided, players as well, and managers, umpires, and owners can’t seem to agree; should baseball implement an instant-replay rule into their games? If so, how, and to what extent should it be done? As Larry Stone of the Seattle Times wrote in his column during this post-season, “The logistics of replay might be a bit tricky, but they're not insurmountable.” Many ideas have been produced and discussed on how to do it, and do it well, but an agreement just cannot seem to be reached. My research has given me insight into both sides of this argument, and both sides have valid points. I hope that after you read through both opinions, you will be able to decide for yourself what you think about replay in Major League Baseball.                             

Largely speaking, Baseball is the only American sport that ever really refers back to its heritage on a regular basis. That is to say, in football for example, you don’t hear NFL announcers saying, “Oh man, Adrian Peterson runs the ball like Gayle Sayers did in his hay-day.” In baseball though, allusions back to the glory days and the players who dominated in yesteryear are quite common. This is due to baseball’s attachment to its history and lore. People who claim to be baseball purists use this to argue against the implementation of instant replay. Baseball has been played basically the exact same way since the mid 1800s, and while most people don’t herald back to these times, they do use that as an argument. The largest argument is that the human error possibility of a baseball umpire calling a play incorrectly is an aspect of the game, and an important one at that. It is a testament to how the game has always been played. Andrew Nuschler of The Sports Scribes writes, “When it comes to the diamond, I can appreciate the value of a certain amount of human error. It's a provocative wild card that inspires conversation about what is ultimately a trivial game… Additionally, it nostalgically connects the present game with its sepia years.” This illustrates the importance of umpiring as it is felt by a stunningly large proportion of fans.

Replay is actually already being used in baseball, believe it or not. It is very limited in its use, but it is being used for calls that are too far away or happen too quickly to be seen by the umpires. These things include whether a homerun was really in or out of the park, and whether quickly hit balls were fair or foul in the infield. But that is all the further that baseball is allowing replay to go at this time, because once you get going, where do you draw the line? Do you use replay pitch-by pith to determine strikes and balls? The opposition says no because baseball games are “too long already”, and those who are for replay generally don’t want it to be that extensive anyways.

Replay used in any amount would indeed lengthen the game to some degree, but the question is: do we want the calls to be called wrong, but called and dealt with quickly? Or can we allow umpires to take two extra minutes and get the calls right? The fact is that with technology at the level it is now, those watching at home, or sitting in the stands watching on the Jumbo-Tron can see when a call has been blown. Christine Brennan of USA Today wrote about an event from this past post-season when Umpire Phil Cuzzi made a call that was clearly blown to everyone watching at home, saying: “Poor Phil. We were told he felt horrible about his mistake after the game. But that could have been avoided. He could have had help, the kind of assistance all U.S. sports fans have come to expect from their pro leagues.”. When a play is so “bang-bang” as it is often called, and things transpire so quickly, an umpire with a human eye just can’t be exactly right all of the time. Colin Cowherd, host of the daily ESPN radio show “The Herd” put it like this, saying: “Its not that Umps are getting worse at their job, that’s not it at all. Its that the 15 different cameras showing us ever single inch of the field are infinitely more advanced now than they were even 15 years ago, and we can see every little detail of the game.”

Those who are calling for replay to be used more extensively offer many different angles to implement it. Because the possible uses of replay are so vast, most who advocate its use narrow their propositions significantly. The most common and efficient times that it could be used are for Ball-vs. -Base-runner calls, either just at home plate, or at all of the bases. Another common proposition is for it to be used to determine whether or not a batter was hit by a pitch or not, since sometimes, with the bagginess of today’s jerseys, it can be hard to tell; and it never fails to get a manager angry when this occurs.

Another big question is how it would be put into use. Would it be a manager’s challenge as in the NFL? Or possibly have a video-only umpire who could review previous plays continuously? Whatever the plan to put replay into practice, it would require a modification to the rulebook. This is another thing that baseball purists don’t like the sound of. Those who support replay rebuttal with a statement again along the lines of, “is it not worth it to get the calls right the first time?” The basic argument can almost always trace back to these two struggles; to change the game for the sake of making it better, or to keep it as-is for the sake of it’s own preservation.

We may not see this problem resolved anytime soon, but one thing is for sure, with each season, both sides will gain more ammunition and more support. Personally I would not be surprised to see either possible outcome happen. Baseball could prove to be the one thing that stands the test of time and doesn’t adapt to the changes in technology and fanbase; or baseball could become progressive, as many other sports have, and utilize new technology. Both outcomes would prove to please some and displease others, and either way the coming generations of fans will still watch. The question just remains, should we or shouldn’t we? And only time will reveal the answer.