28 August 2008
Today, I read an interesting opinion article by NBCSports.com writer Bryan Burwell titled "Why Limit Replays to Home Run Calls?" Burwell's opinion inspired me to write down some of my own thoughts as an avid baseball fan in defense of what Burwell calls the "old-school" way of thinking. For those that haven't heard about it, America's pastime recently got a technological makeover in the form of instant replay for the sole purpose of allowing the crew chief of an umpiring crew to see if his crew got a home run call of fair or foul, over the wall or not, and fan interference or not correct. Major League Baseball is the last major sport to not utilize replay, unlike football where replays are used nearly every game to dispute almost any play, hockey to dispute goals, or tennis to dispute close line calls by the line judges. The basic setup of the replay system is simple - in all thirty MLB ballparks, a video screen and phone are set up. This is connected to an off-site central replay center for all replays. The crew chief of the umpiring crew calls for a review of a homer, views the replay on the screen, and exercises sole discretion in upholding or overturning the call. Unlike football, there are no "coach's challenges" or player requests like in tennis. This might seem like a good thing, and perhaps it is, as Burwell suggests, "belated" as compared to the other sports. However, I offer a different perspective. In football, hockey, and tennis, fans don't exercise the option to yell at the referees for a bad call - they yell for the coaches to challenge the judge's decision. In baseball, one of the best things about the game is it's fallibility. When a player smashes one down the right-field line and it goes into the corner and looks to be out of the park, but is subsequently called foul, who among us doesn't like to yell at the umpires? Baseball fans have a much more intimate relationship with the umps than any other sport does with its officiating crew: before each game, the umpiring crew is announced to the stadium, scorecards have spaces on them for the umpires as well as the players, and many fans can pick out the umpires from the quirks they harbor behind the plate or on the field (just TRY to ignore Jim Joyce calling a called strike!). The point is: we want to yell at them, then accept that the call didn't go our way that time and sit back down with the subtle reminder that human error is a part of the game. Same thing for safe/not safe, balls and strikes, and fair or foul. It's fun to watch the umps get it wrong; I would say its almost an essential part of the game. "The idea in every game we play is fairness," says Berwell. "The idea in every game we play is to get it right." What he fails to recognize is that that officiating crew "gets it right" 99 percent of the time! And even when they don't, the play was almost always so close that the call could go either way, even with replay. Trust me, after watching several years' worth of baseball games on TV, where every close play is shown over and over, even slowed down to "Extreme Slo-Mo" speeds, it can still be hard to determine what the call "should have" been. And if it's that way for every team and every player, what's not fair about that? While the technological part works for football (where you really can't tell what's going on without replays anyway), tennis, or hockey, it's a system that seeks to bring down the level of the game of baseball. My opinion as a fan of the game and a modern student of technology is that not only do we need a traditional game that puts aside the ideals of so-called perfection that only the National Enquirer can showcase, but that taking this "advancement" any farther than it already has would continue to degrade the enjoyability of baseball considerably. Those people, like Mr. Berwell, who argue for the mechanization of the game are not fans in my book, but rather glorified statisticians seeking nothing more than a reason to argue.