The Tenth Inning – Week 20 – Instant Replay ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
The advancements made in technology over the past 20 years have complete reshaped the entire globe. HD television, satellite radio, iPads, mlb.tv, mobile apps â all have contributed to enhancing the ways in which baseball fans can follow their favorite teams and Americaâs pastime. Itâs certainly been a benefit to me, as Iâve been able to follow the Mets over the past few years in both Philadelphia and Dayton, Ohio. But technology also comes with a price, and thatâs manifested itself in the wonderful world of umpiring.
I’m not the first person to raise this point â umpiring in baseball seems to be worse this season than in seasons past. But notice I said, “seems to be,” because I’m not completely convinced that it actually is. Instead, I think that as the technological advancements have entered the television production trucks, it’s become easier to see the mistakes that are made by MLB umpires, just as it’s become easier to see touchdowns and out-of-bounds in football and the puck crossing the goal line in hockey. All three sports use video replay to some extent now, and baseball has voted to expand their use of replay beyond just home run calls, and I, for one, don’t like it.
The counter argument is fairly simple. Why would anyone be against a part of the game that enhances the ability to make the correct call in a given situation? To this end, I generally agree, but there are specific instances in which the “correct call” might be up for debate. I think back to the first Saturday after the All-Star break when a trapped flyball during a Braves-Mets game led to a lengthy discussion between the umpires – and Chris Myers and Eric Karros in the broadcast booth â as to what the “correct call” was in that instance. Though a shallow flyball to left was clearly trapped by Scott Hairston, the umpire closest to the play â and thus the umpire responsible for making the call â initially signaled out, causing tremendous confusion for Martin Prado, the runner at first who had advanced to second assuming a base hit. Upon seeing the “out” signal, Prado then tried to return to first, where he was tagged out by Ike Davis before reaching the base itself. At that point, Prado argued, and the umpires gathered to determine the “correct call.” But what is the “correct call?”
With or without replay, the ruling on the field clearly should have been a base hit, and that is ultimately what the umpiring crew working the game above ruled. But they also ruled that Prado should be granted second base, because that’s where he would have been had the correct call been made initially, and that’s where the idea of replay begins to enter a rather grey area. When used for a home run, the ball is either live or dead â if it’s ruled not a home run, play continues until the ball is dead, then reviewed. If the play is subsequently overturned, everyone scores, any outs recorded are removed, and play continues from there. It’s simple, clear cut, and concise, and most umpires now know that, whenever a doubt arises about whether or not a ball cleared the wall, they should rule it live and let play continue before checking the monitor to confirm or overturn. On a ball hit into shallow leftfield, however, it’s live either way â so how is it possible to determine the outcome of the play if the opposite ruling had been made?
We don’t live in a hypothetical world â every decision brings forth a consequence unique to its circumstances, and it’s impossible to reverse the consequences to make a different decision â but that’s what baseball will be trying to do with the expansion of replay, and it will only cause more confusion and second-guessing among the umpires. Part of why the umpiring seems to be worse now than in years past is because so many umpires are operating in fear of being proven wrong by a television crew, so they wind up thinking about their call instead of going with the instant reaction to the play they’re seeing. That’s not the way the game was supposed to be officiated, and adding more technology to the game will only enhance the grey area instead of reducing it.
So leave the trapped balls and foul tips and bang-bang safe/out calls at first base to the human beings, or take humans out of the equation entirely. If MLB can hire some tech geek to build a robot umpire that doesn’t miss a call, perfect. Sign me up in full support of that. But until then, take your HD cameras and smart phones and K-Zone and get them the hell out of the game. Let the humans do what they do, and just enjoy the game of baseball for the beautiful sport that it is.
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