Out of all the major sports, baseball, by far, is the slowest to implement change. Football, by contrast, has changed dramatically in the past fifty years. There’s much more complex offensive and defensive schemes. There’s more specialization among the players. Yes, Mr. Long Snapper, I’m talking about you. Pro basketball is a much faster game then it was fifty years ago. One need only look at the increased athleticism and the almost utter contempt for defense to see the difference. But baseball is different.
With the exception of the designated hitter and the advent of highly detailed roles for relief pitchers, baseball is largely the same game it was in 1960 and with the clamping down on steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, even more so. In fact, one of baseball’s greatest attributes is it’s history. Baseball records are more sacrosanct then any other sport. Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak is just as impressive today as it was in 1941. The same with Pete Rose’s hit record and Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive games played streak. History and tradition endure despite Bud “I Have the Personality Of An Undertaker” Selig’s best efforts.
Just to be clear, I’m not an old fart who thinks all change is bad, although that Cap Anson was a helluva player. Rather, I’m a middle-aged fart who has come around on some things. I used to hate the wild card because I felt it diluted the play-offs, but have since changed my mind. It makes the end of the season mean more for some teams and their fans, then if it was just the division winners advancing. For the record, I still hate inter-league play. It takes away from the uniqueness of the World Series if the teams, have already played each other. It’s also ridiculous that this season started with inter-league play. “Look kids, it’s the Phillies vs. the Rangers! We’ve been looking forward to this all winter,” said no one. And then there’s instant replay.
People have been playing around with some form of instant replay for years but this is the year it finally comes to fruition. First, what plays does instant replay cover? Pretty much everything except for balls and strikes, trapped balls in the infield and double plays when it’s questionable if second base was actually touched.
Each manager gets one challenge per game. If the manager is right and the call is overturned, he gets another challenge to be used later. After the sixth inning, umpires can request replays but only if the team that is adversely affected has already used its challenge. Look, it’s just a bad idea and here’s why:
5. No More Manger / Umpire Fights
Baseball is entertainment and seeing a Bobby Cox, Billy Martin or Lou Pinella act like a maniac is incredibly entertaining. When Earl Weaver turned his cap around before storming up to the man in blue, it was like watching a young Baryshnikov dance “Swan Lake.” Every move was premeditated for maximum audience enjoyment.
To date, no manager has ever keeled over and suffered a heart attack while arguing, but that it didn’t mean it couldn’t have happen some day. Now it can’t, which is a shame because watching an overweight man stuffed into a spandex uniform, acting like a lunatic over something that happened during a game is a whole other level of absurd.
4. Isn’t The Game Slow Enough Already?
The short answer is yes. The authorities who claim that use of replay won’t slow down the games are the same people who don’t believe in evolution, facts be damned, For instance, during a recent Blue Jay / Rays game there were two challenges that “officially” took 4:57. The “official” time didn’t take into account the long walks to the mound and the milling about when the manager decided to issue the challenge. By any reasonable measure, the whole thing took closer to nine minutes.
Ironically, most of Bud Selig’s tenure has been devoted to speeding up the game and this does the opposite. Hey, no one said the man was bright.
3. The Equal Protection Clause
The fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution calls for equal protection under the law. In short, that means that everyone should be treated the same regardless of race, gender, religion or wealth. True, the current Supreme Court seems intent on blowing all that up but, for the time being, it is still the law of the land. How does this apply to instant replay in baseball? Here’s how:
The replays that will be scrutinized by the umpires are provided by the stations broadcasting the games. Not all coverage is equal. Some stations utilize ten cameras per game, others fourteen, etc.
The team that has been wronged enjoys a greater chance of a call being reversed if there are more camera angles to cover said play. It may not seem like a big deal at the time, especially if the team isn’t in contention, but it could have repercussions down the road. That team’s winning or losing could change the standings and reward one playoff contention team over another. It would be nice if every broadcast used the same number of cameras but that isn’t at all realistic.
2. There Aren’t That Many Bad Calls
By any reasonable metric, Major League umpires do an outstanding job. An ESPN study conducted in 2010 looked at 184 games and found that, on average, 1.3 plays per game couldn’t be made conclusively without looking at a replay. Of those, only 20.4% of the calls made on the field were found to be incorrect. That works out to 0.265 bad calls per game or about one every four games. Why are they trying to fix something that isn’t really broken?
Plus, the number of truly bad calls that have influenced major events is really small. There’s Game 6 of the 1985 World Series where umpire Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta safe when he was clearly out. The Royals managed to score two more runs, won the game and tied the series. The next night, Kansas City kicked the ever loving crap out of St. Louis, romping eleven to nothing. Cardinal fans still bitch about that play during Game 6 but a really good team should have been able to rise above it. Same goes for Cubs fans who still want to kill Steve Bartman. Guess what, Bartman didn’t give up eight runs in that inning, the Cubs did.
1. Let’s Not Lose the Human Element
Mistakes are a part of sports and a part of life. Many people point to Jim Joyce blowing a call that cost Armando Galarraga’s perfect game as a reason for instant replay. To be sure, Joyce did blow that call and no one felt worse about it then him. The man called into a sports radio show that night, admitted his mistake and sincerely apologized to Galarraga.
The next night, Tiger manager, Jim Leyland, had Armando deliver the line-up card to Joyce at home plate. Joyce apologized again and Galarraga forgave him and patted Joyce on the back. It was a really nice moment. Better, it was a human moment. It was talked about nationally in non-sports environments as well. You could argue that the botched call, that didn’t effect the final score, benefited both men. Joyce was seen as a good man who screwed up but took full responsibility. Galarraga was viewed as gracious and as a good sport. Not a bad legacy for either man. Plus, people will remember that game more then almost any other no-hitter or perfect game. None of this would’ve happened had instant replay been involved.
Baseball is sometimes seen as a nineteenth century game because it’s pastoral. Major League baseball should embrace this. It makes their game differ from the other major sports. Lose instant replay and let the game be decided on the field. In short, let baseball be baseball.