I came across this column on Friday that was written by ESPN’s Jayson Stark. I try to work the concept of instant replay into at least one column a year, and Stark has just given me my first chance in 2013. I’ve long been a proponent of replay in all sports. Many people argue that it takes the human element out of the game, and that’s certainly very true. But how did the human element work in the Armando Galaraga would-be perfect game? Or the Don Dekinger-influenced World Series in 1985? There are also parallel situations in other sports to which you can look. I suppose my point is that while I grasp and understand the human element of sports, the goal is to get every call right.
There is in fact a way that we can help umpires to get calls correct: instant replay. I don’t say all of this to be critical of umpires; quite the contrary in fact. I recognize that these guys are forced to make snap decisions on bang-bang plays that unfold right in front of them in a very fast manner. At some point someone’s going to get a call wrong, because of the aforementioned human element. So why not offer a way that can help these guys out? In no way am I suggesting that balls and strikes be reviewed. That would be a total exercise in futility, and it would take way too much time. However anything on the base paths (out/safe calls), in the outfield, home runs, or fair/foul should be subject to a review if necessary.
Interestingly, Stark’s article refers to a challenge system, presumably similar to what the NFL does. It’s unclear whether or not managers would have a certain number of challenges, or what the penalty would be for the challenge not being upheld (if any). For all I know if they were to do something along those lines each team would have three challenges for the entire game, with no in-game penalty for the call being upheld. (Of course in the NFL the team is charged with a timeout.) I’ve always thought that college football had the best instant replay system. Every play is reviewed by the “eye in the sky,” and if the replay official feels they need to look at something closer he buzzes down to the ref.
I don’t see MLB doing that because I think it would provide for some much longer games. It seems like your average college football game is now in the three-and-a-half to four hour range. But I could see giving managers two or three challenges that they could use on specific types of plays during each game. (If a game goes to extra innings perhaps each team would have an extra challenge.) In baseball at least, opponents always make the argument that I just stated regarding the time of the game. Do some of these elongated manager/umpire arguments not eat up time as well? Why not allow the manager to formally ask for a review rather than have him get ejected and so forth?
With this said, I think that similar to touchdowns in football they should still review all home run calls automatically. I recognize that the game does have a human element, and some of that would certainly be lost if replay was expanded. However would we rather lose that, or risk a team losing a game as a result? I would submit that teams such as the Baltimore Orioles would be much happier if we had that safety net of replay to help the umpires make the correct calls.