Instant Replay in Major League Baseball: An Umpire's Perspective

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Instant Replay in Major League Baseball: An Umpire's Perspective
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Earlier this month, the man to the right became the poster-boy, if you will, for an MLB Instant Replay system.

My name is James Yaeger. I am 16 years old. I shoot video for my local cable access station. I'm a junior in high school and I occasionally write some articles here for Bleacher Report. In addition, I have been an ASA Certified Umpire for three years.

Sure, three years of experience isn't much of a comparison to a man like Jim Joyce. After all, he has 23 years of MLB experience, umpired in semi-pro leagues and the MiLB before that. He has umpired two all-star games, six divisional series, four league championship series, two World Series, and was recently named in a player survey as the top umpire in Major League Baseball .  

There is your first reason against an extensive Instant Replay system in baseball. Every one of the umpires in Major League Baseball is expected to be the best in his field. They are hired based on experience and ability before even being called on for the job, and are perhaps the most professional people on the field.

Need another reason? The same survey above indicated an overwhelming rejection of extensive Instant Replay by the players themselves.

Need some more? I'll deliver.

One of the most delicate issues in an umpire system is the appeal process. It is to be handled with care by all. What are the prerequisites for an appeal to be made? First of all is an establishing reason. Why is an appeal necessary? Did you believe the umpire making the call was at a bad angle? Was the umpire making the call obstructed in some way? Or do you just believe the umpire had the wrong judgement? If it's the case of the final instance,then you're simply out of luck.

As is the case with any umpiring, the umpire's judgement is the final word unless there was an outside force that hindered it.

The next step of the appeal: Is it a call that can be appealed? Applicable appeals: Did the batter swing? Did the first baseman pull his foot? Did the runner leave early? Did the runner touch the base?

Calls that can't be appealed: Was the runner safe or out? Was that pitch a strike or a ball? Or any other calls that can fall under the umbrella as "judgement calls." As you can see, the appeals process is set up very intricately so as to undermine neither the rule book nor the umpire making the call.

An Instant Replay system would take an intricate system such as this and tear it apart. There will be people reading this saying: "Well, doesn't the instant replay provide a 'better angle' for the call and qualify for a reason for appeal?" Well, in the days of modern broadcasting, there are going to be 50 different angles. Half of them are going to paint a different picture from any of the others. In addition, the reason for an appeal is not if another umpire (or anyone else) had a better angle, it is that the umpire making the call had a bad angle. That slight difference in wording is what keeps the game going at a good pace.

The next reason is one that really doesn't have all that much to do with the umpire at all.

Talking to friends who are both fans and not fans of baseball, one of the biggest complaints about baseball is the pace it moves at. If you think about how many close plays there are at the bases alone in one game, you will realize exactly how often a system of instant replay would have to be called on. A system would take a game that often lasts a minimum of two hours, already a tedious time span for some spectators and adding even more time to it. Keeping the umpires on the field and replays off keeps a constant, smooth pace to the game, one of the most undermined aspects of what the umpires do.

Right now, some people are probably arguing, "well what about football? Their system works just fine and keeps the game at a good pace, why would that change for baseball?"

To answer such a question, I would like to point out, once again, the sheer number of close calls there are in a baseball game that would be eligible for review, compared to the amount there would be in football. Compare the number of times a runner is within a half step of being safe or out to the amount of times a wide receiver is within a half step of catching a ball in or out of bounds. The result should be evidence enough.

Now, let's take a look at one last thing. How often do these close plays directly influence the result of the game? Does a batter getting rung up on a pitch of the plate in the first inning directly cause his team to lose 4-0 in a complete game? Does a runner being called out in the sixth cause a defensive collapse by his team in the eighth, leading them to a close loss? Does a fair ball being called foul directly influence the rest of his team not being able to put a string of hits together throughout the game?

Hopefully you can see my point. Baseball is a team game. As a result, it is filled with plays that will work out both positively and negatively for a team. The majority of these plays will have no direct hand in influencing whether that same team won or lost.

In conclusion, an instant replay system being put into place by Major League Baseball would undermine the current fabric of rule interpretation, slow the game down to an inevitable crawl, and would most likely do absolutely nothing to effect the grand scheme of a team-based national past-time.

Every umpire occasionally blows a call, even the best of them. Jim Joyce being a prime example. Throughout an umpires career, over 99% of his calls will probably be the right ones. However, it will be those bad ones that come few and far between that will hang on the minds of the spectators.

I have heard it said that the best umpire is one that won't be remembered at all. If that is the case then hopefully I will be able to slip into the background among the game when my career is over.

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