The Case for Common Sense: Why the MLB Needs Instant Replay

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The Case for Common Sense: Why the MLB Needs Instant Replay
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No matter one’s particular brand of politics, I think we could all agree that Congress does not work as efficiently or effectively as it could.

Now, if I told you that I had a foolproof, instantly applicable means of fixing our legislative body, you’d say: “By God man, why don’t you get to implementing that?!”

Your incredulity would be understandable and reasonable.

So, I ask, why doesn’t this logic translate to baseball?

Today, Bud Selig announced that the MLB would not overturn last night’s abominable, perfect-game-ruining, safe call from Jim Joyce.

And it was the right decision.  While some say that one mere exception is allowable in these circumstances—arguing that a slippery slope of reversing numerous calls after-the-fact wouldn’t inevitably result—doing so would set a precedent of rewriting events in the past.

Sure, the floodgates may not be violently torn open, but when another controversial ninth-inning call (say, a game-winning home run that, upon review, actually hits below the yellow line which tops the fence) occurs, the jilted team can point to the Armando Galarraga game as a reason for another historical revision.

It may not be a Pandora’s Box where evils fly out in hordes, but it simply is a step in a dangerous direction that does not have to be taken.

With that being said, however, if Jim Jones’s career-defining mistake (you think anyone would remember Don Denkinger if not for the 1985 World Series?) does not end up being the impetus for an expansion of instant replay in baseball, then the MLB is as mismanaged as BP.

Just look at poor Mr. Galarraga’s face when he sees Joyce's arms signal safe—it’s heart-breaking.

If only there had been an appeal to turn to in order to rectify the situation and preserve well-deserved history…

Oh, yeah, there could be.

Opponents of instant replay contest that the human element of umpiring is part of the game, something as ingrained in baseball’s DNA as hot dogs, chewing tobacco, and luxury boxes.

Plus, they continue, it wouldn’t be fair to the history of the game and the legends that comprise it to implement dramatic changes now.

What’s next, they ask, the option to review balls and strikes?

But here’s the thing, every sport—hell, life in general—is a dynamic entity.  Change happens, and often the catalyst is technology.

And as far as ensuring that the right call is made, there is no doubt we currently possess workable technology.

Personally, I don’t care if balls and strikes are subjected to some review mechanism to safeguard against stupidity, and pride, and personal belief, and anything else that could compel an umpire to make the wrong call.

In fact, if you told me you had a team of robots that could replace umpires and get every call right, I’d be ecstatic.

Why is the human element so damn sacred?

Let’s think about it: what draws us to sports and competition?

The chance to witness humans with unique physical talents or skills do things most of us cannot—and we want to create a fair, uniform environment across which we can compare and contextualize those abilities.

Which is why umpires and referees are there in the first place: to objectively apply rules that produce a fair playing field.  But now, an improvement to those safeguards is available.

Especially in baseball.

It is a given that the governing bodies in sports will move glacially, yet both the NFL and the NBA have been more proactive in utilizing instant replay capabilities—and those sports are much less black-and-white due to all of the fast-moving bodies, contact, and ambiguous rules’ situations.

Baseball, on the other hand, is relatively straightforward.

A ball is either fair or foul.  A runner is either safe or out.  Not a whole lot of ambiguity in those rulings.

Instant replay can guarantee the right call is made, and that the playing field is as even as possible.

And lastly, as far as the unfairness to past generations is concerned: get over it.

Technology changes every sport to the advantage of those who come later.  Improvements in golf clubs and golf balls mean that greater distance and control are achievable in today’s game.

Does that undermine the greatness of Walter Hagen?  Absolutely not.

Improvements in football helmets make the game much different than when Red Grange was galloping through defenses.

Comparisons over generations are inherently problematic, so we shouldn’t let that factor into any rule-change decisions.

I realize numbers are particularly hallowed in baseball, but folks, all instant replay would do is make certain that those numbers are more pure, because all the calls could be right.

In no way do I blame Jim Joyce for what happened last night.

He used what was available to him to make a subjective call as best as he could.

But humans make errors, and Jones made one.  A big one. 

One that has cost Armando Galarrage his rightful place among the 20 other names who have managed the whole 27 up, 27 down, thing.

So, Bud Selig, the ball is in your court (or diamond, I suppose).

By ignoring the anti-technology “purists,” you can change your game for the better going forward.

I’m all for deliberate and cautious adoption, adaptation and monitoring of technology—in sports and life—and I understand your concerns about slowing down the game.

Except, we’ve seen enough as far as this argument goes.

Simply put a fifth official in a booth somewhere with a replay TV and provide him with a direct link to the crew chief.

Allow for three manager challenges a game, as well as self-reviews on calls that are exceedingly close or when an ump's view is obstructred.

If a manager gets the first two wrong, they lose the third.

That, or design some cool robots.

But no matter how you structure it, fans will gladly sit for 10 extra minutes, knowing the calls they see are correct.

Let’s embrace instant replay—if for no other reason than that gut-wrenching look of disbelief and disappointment written all over the faces of the Tigers upon that call.

Now, anyone got similar solutions for Congress?

 

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