Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Instant Replay Needs To Be Implemented

Bruce Jenkins just wrote a column regarding umpires and the need to bring in a replay system of some sort. I think he hit the nail right on the head: the umpires lost their right to have unanswered calls through sheer incompetence to keep the traditional system.

ogc Thoughts

I've been for a replay system to be put into place, but I've not heard a better, more succinct wording of why it must be done until now:  the umpires lost their right to have unanswered calls through sheer incompetence to keep the traditional umpiring system.  Not that all umpiring is incompetent, but enough that I feel that something needs to be done.  I've been on board for changing the umpiring situation for many decades now.

Hopefully the MLB will do something, but I've been discouraged that anything will happen with umpires since Sandy Alderson left the Commissioner's Office. Sandy's moves, including his great move to accept only certain umpire's letters of resignation (and his great quote on that:  "it is either a threat to be ignored or offer to be accepted"), gave me hope that something would eventually be done, but instead he moved on, and a pitcher lost his perfect no-hitter plus other travesties like the latest string of complaints have happened.

If tradition is the be-all and end-all, they would all still be playing with paper thin gloves, use balls until they are falling apart, spike each other in the legs when sliding, use spitballs regularly, and the homerun ball would still be gauche while the stolen base would still be king.  Times change, technology changes, tradition changes.

For me, it has nothing to do with good teams or bad teams, it has to do with getting the correct result in any game. Recently, there was an out call made when the firstbaseman's foot was a good foot or more off the bag. And while good teams don't usually get beat by bad calls, it can cost them a playoff berth.  The Giants nearly did not make the 2010 playoffs because the umpire called Ishikawa out at home plate when he clearly scored, looking at the replay, costing the Giants a win.  Mistakes that are so obvious using current technology simply cannot be tolerated.

And I love baseball's perfect/imperfect blend as much as anyone else. I think that there is greater skill involved - see how many high school teenagers make it in other sports vs. baseball - and that is part of why I love it, as I see/feel the difference.  As a former (not so good) ballplayer, I can appreciate the ability involved with professional baseball.  As a humanist, I don't want baseball to be sterile either.

I also feel that the MLB can be improved by a replay system. I'm tired of lazy umpiring. I'm tired of blown calls. I'm not there to listen to the umpire call a strike, though that is nice sometimes. I'm there to watch baseball and to see a team's or individual's efforts ruined because the umpire was clearly wrong is infuriating, whether it is my team or another, whether it is a nearly perfect game or a laugher of epic proportions.

I like the human element too so that is why I'm OK with keeping the umpires around and to have them call the strikes (though that also bothers me too). With all the new technologies, I would like to see the MLB better enforce the strikezone as well, grading umpires on their calls, creating minimum standards for consistency with penalties up to losing their job for incompetence.  And instant replay is another aspect of improving umpiring that makes even more sense, to me, at least with balls and strikes, you can maybe recover from a blown call.  Costing a team the tying or winning run is another thing, there are some mistakes that clearly costs one team and benefits the other..

So I totally agree that the human element needs to still be in there, but I really hate when umpires get in the way of the game, the purity of the game, if you will. The game will never be perfect, but at least get the calls right to the best extent possible without ruining or slowing the game.

Bruce's suggestion makes a lot of sense, and there is usually a break in play where the reviewing umpire can override an erroneous call. You don't even need the umpires or the managers asking for a review, the review umpire job is to correct wrong calls, so he should be able to buzz the home plate umpire and inform him of any calls that are changed by the reviewing umpire or let him know it is OK to proceed, that there will be no call.  That way, the home ump keeps the attention of the crowd and not a voice on the loudspeakers announcing to the crowd, like the Wizard of Oz.

That's 15 extra umpires per season,which would probably cost this multi-billion dollar industry less than $5M per season to implement, given how good TV broadcasts are at supplying all the angles almost immediately.  That's a small price to pay to fix egregious umpire errors, and it won't add much time either, to the game, almost seamless, part of the action.  You just have the reviewing umpire somewhere with a panel of screens with the ability to view any play by the various camera angles available.  And he communicates directly with the home plate umpire, who will announce any changed plays.

As much as I enjoy seeing a manager lose it sometimes on calls, I just want the umpires to get it right on the close calls.   To expect humans to do so is folly, but we have the technology to at least help the situation without much additional cost nor much additional time added.  I would also like to see further changes related to consistent strikezones, if not across all umpires, then at least that each umpire is consistent in his calls.  But I understand that a traditional sport like baseball will only change gradually, one battle at a time.


  1. I'm all for a "reviewing umpire", and challenges, if they can be managed with being excessive.

    However, a couple things - I think the general public (not fans) find the game dull enough. Isn't controversy better than delays in the game?

    The other is neither here nor there as to the present need, but I would think there's no reason to believe that umpires are better or worse than they were, I dunno, 50 years ago - we just have the benefit of 92 cameras and replay. There's no way to make that judgement except anecdotally.

  2. I suspect that umpiring is better now, with four umps instead of three, and better technological means of training. But I think it's ridiculous not to take in-game advantage of technological advances so as to improve on umpiring today; and I don't comprehend why doing so would make the game sterile, any more than races are sterile because the technology of yesteryear, photographs and stop watches, are used, instead of someone eyeballing the finish line.

  3. I really enjoy baseball history. And when someone looks at the Mets first no-hitter ever, all they will know is that Johan Santana walked 5 batters and struck out 8, while throwing 134 pitches, in his first season after recovering from shoulder surgery, which I guess is worth it if he goes down, but that's a lot of pitches on a shoulder that's probably still recovering.

    What they probably won't know is that Carlos Beltran sliced a double down the 3B line, only to have the 3B umpire, Adrian Johnson, screwed up and called the hit foul. It was pretty late in the game too, 6th inning, so the ump knew what was at stake.

    Now, I wouldn't give it an asterisk, it is what it is, but just makes my case for why instant replay should be implemented. Why let this even be a question? When for minimal cost in money and time. Why leave a foul taste in the fan's mouth over atrocities like this? Or Gallaraga's perfect non-hitter.

    Even with the 3B ump stopping play, the replay ump could call down and rule a double for Beltran, easy peasy, the replay probably would have reversed that call by the time the home umpire was ready for the next pitch. Would have added maybe a minute to the length of the game.

    And the vast majority of games do not have instances like this, but I would put this on a similar plane as insurance, usually not necessary but pays off big when it is necessary.

    I have nothing against human error. I accept that it happens. So why not implement something like this that can get the call right, for minimal cost in money and time.

    There are TV cameras galore now all over the park, and the TV director is very good at quickly finding the replay that shows what happened for the replay umpire. Within a minute or two, the replay umpire can change the call. Takes that long for some batters to walk up to home plate sometimes and get settled in.



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