Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who's In Charge? (My Take on Instant Replay in Baseball)

MLB is considering implementing instant replay to assist with questionable homerun calls, and plans are to give it a try in the Arizona Fall League. Last December during the Winter Meetings, the General Managers voted 25-5 in favor of recommending it for "boundary calls". Everyone is talking about it again now because of a couple of so-called "blown" calls in the New York market (it's questionable whether there would be the ado if they had happened here in fly-over country). And because those calls have been replayed over and over in a 24/7 barrage, many will insist that everyone continues to talk about it.

While I'm not really against instant replay in these particular cases -- we all know of times when legitimate home runs were ruled as foul balls because the umpires couldn't tell which side of the foul pole the ball flew past -- I'm not a fan of the path that allowing any instant replay goes down. If this happens, it would be the first time that technology is allowed to actually change the game rather than merely enhance it.

Because virtually every game is televised, players today use replays to scout opponents or improve their own game. However, when he's between the lines, a player still must make his pitches or put the bat on the ball all by himself. Improving the performance of the individual athletes is a far different matter than forcing the game to conform to a television-ruled world with its all-mighty dollar. Baseball fans are already subjected to goofy start times and elongated half-inning changeovers because of the demands of television advertising.

Baseball itself isn't well suited to allow technology to dictate outcomes because it seems to celebrate its own quirkiness. This is a game that doesn't even want a clock to tell everyone when the game is over. Heck, there aren't even standards for the size or shape of the field of play as long as the bases are 90 feet apart and the pitcher's mound is 60 feet 6 inches away from home. And nothing happens unless human umpires or scorekeepers say it does (ball or strike? pitch or balk? safe or out? hit or error? fair or foul?). So forcing a drastic change in the way a game is called, simply because fans can second-guess the calls the next morning, seems counter-intuitive.

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