Sports Commentary 5/17/13
Replay Expansion in baseball is needed
PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM
In the late 1960’s video replays became a regular part of televised baseball games. They were used sparingly, in black and white only, and run at natural speed. There we stood, at the top of a slippery slope. At that time, and for more than the first century of Major League Baseball history, it was generally accepted that the human element of umpiring was part of the game, especially the part about “erring” being part of the human equation. In the last four and a half decades the technology behind instant replays has reached dimensions that were once only presumed in science fiction. Every angle can now be rerun in an instant at speeds so slow the rotation of the ball can be analyzed and with stop frame clarity that leaves virtually no call in doubt. While replays showed umpires getting the calls right more often than not, they also made calls made at breakneck speeds sometimes appear to be blatant mistakes. In many ways it was unfair to the umpires, but suggestions to use replays as an officiating tool became so commonplace we took that first step down the slope, using them to validate home runs. It hasn’t always been successful. The object of replays is to get the call right. As recently as last week, even with a replay review, the umpiring crew got a home run call wrong in an A’s-Angels game. Still, Major League Baseball feels the early returns have been positive enough to extend the use of replays next season to include fair-foul calls and trap plays. Yesterday former Yankee manager Joe Torre, now the head of competition for Major League Baseball, said the extension of reviews could now include everything except ball and strike calls, which should always remain exempt, for the sake of the game. They must be made as quickly and authoritatively as possible. The plate umpire can’t be subject to second guessing every call. Still, no system will be perfect. Torre says safe and out calls are now likely to fall under the new system, a circumstance that would have preserved at least one perfect game in the last two years. But replays won’t correct all mistakes. One day after the botched home run call an umpiring crew allowed a pitcher who had warmed up to be relieved without facing a batter, simply a matter of knowing, and applying, the rules. Improperly used, the replay can further impede the pace of the game. Home run reviews require the entire umpiring crew to vacate the field and go to a video room, holding up the game for several minutes. If a similar scenario plays out for every contested call we could face a worst case scenario of having Red Sox-Yankees games, that already are so overmanaged they take well over four hours to play on a regular basis, going until dawn following one of those late Sunday ESPN starts. If reviews are going to determine so many aspects of the game the expediency of the game has to be taken into consideration. A replay official, conversant with the rules of baseball and the ground rules of the stadium, should work every game in a booth with all angles readily available and fair-foul, safe-out displays on the scoreboard to keep the umpires on the field. It has, afterall, always been the primary purpose of the replay, to get it right, even in the application. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.