Friday, August 22, 2008
the right call
This week, Major League Baseball announced an agreement with the umpires and players to allow instant replay during games. The ruling would limit instant replay reviews to boundary calls, which basically means they'll be used to review home runs.
The decision already has baseball purists up in arms, but I'm excited about the announcement. Since a home run can so dramatically change the outcome of a game, I feel like umpires should do everything they can to get it right, even if it means relying on video replay. I can definitely remember at least two home run calls in recent history that were botched to the detriment of my team. Of course, it only made it worse that everyone in TV land could see how obviously bad the call was...
To be sure, I don't think instant replay should be used for any other calls; like the purists, I think umpire judgments should always play a big role in Major League Baseball. But the awarding of an automatic run—or four—shouldn't be something that's subject to an umpire's faulty vision.
Earlier this summer I was at a meeting of the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, when a member who had been an MLB umpire for a good deal of the last century told us a story about a botched home run call many decades ago. During the play, a fly ball was so close to the fair pole that it was all but impossible to see which side it landed on. The resulting call (I forget which way it went) was so disagreeable to the parties involved that someone suggested it would be a good idea to add a fence to the fair pole, so that if a ball got that close, it would hit the fence and bounce down. Wanting to make more accurate judgments (and prevent the vitriol spewed against them in the event of a bad call), the umpires of the day agreed that all stadiums would from then on be equipped with fences along their fair poles. I'm sure baseball purists were outraged back then, too, but I think we can all agree that that innovation has hardly been a detriment to the game.
It has yet to be determined exactly what kind of surveillance system will be used to monitor fair and foul balls moving forward. But if it's anything like the system used by professional tennis players, I think it'll be terrific. Of course, even if it's just normal TV replay, I'll be happy. Strangely, some people have already started complaining that baseball games will get longer as a result, but how many close home run calls do you see in a game? The fact is, the majority of fly ball plays are totally obvious to everyone on the field, so in contrast to both football and tennis (where any of a number of plays per game/match might warrant review), instant replay in baseball will most likely be a rarity anyway. ∞