On an Off Day, a Call for Expanded Replay

I haven’t harped on this subject too much, but after two questionable calls in last night’s game–and just apparently bad umpiring all season–I want to get my views on replay out there on and on the record ;though I’ve commented on articles here about replay, I’ve never written my own article about it, so here goes.

Via RAB, I came across this ESPN article by Jim Caple about Bud Selig’s reluctance to expand instant replay. While this hardly comes as a surprise, I think it should be surprising. First off, Selig has actually done some good things to move the sport forward–the Wild Card will be his legacy and was easily the best thing he’s done, more expansion (Tampa and Arizona), and Interleague Play (even though I think it’s run its course, it’s been generally good). Second, expanding replay is something that will improve the game. Has football been hurt by instant replay? Absolutely not. The sport is still wildly popular (though I think the gambling has a lot to do with that, too; but I digress…).

While it may be entertaining to see managers and players explode on the field and argue with the umps, it’s generally fruitless. Nothing ever comes from it as the calls are never overturned. Selig had this to say about the proverbial “human element” of the game:

“I do like the human element and I think the human element for the last 130 years has worked pretty well. There have been controversies but there are controversies in every sport.”

The “human element” of baseball is seen as charming by those who do not want to expand replay, but if the “human element” is hurting the game with bad calls, then the charm wears off immediately. Just because something has been done for a long time doesn’t mean it should not be changed. In today’s age of ultra fast, ultra sharp visual technology, there is no excuse for not having a crutch onto which the umpires can lean for the purpose of getting calls right.

The replay cause is certainly not helped by the fact that the current system of replay is atrocious. There is absolutely no reason to have all of the umpires leave the field when a play needs to be reviewed. This definitely does slow the pace of the game. If replay is to be expanded, this system will need to be changed. What changes should be made?

1. All calls, short of balls and strikes, are to be subject to review if necessary. Home run calls are not the only things on which umpires could have trouble and are definitely not the only calls that can impact a game. It’s much more likely that a close play on the bases would be harder for the umpires to judge than a home run.

2. The umpires should not leave the field. Instead of having the umpires leave the field of play and all go under the stadium, have a replay umpire somewhere–in a replay room, in one of the broadcast booths, anywhere–where he can watch the game on television and have access to the replays available. This umpire would also be in communication with either all the umpires on the field or the crew chief via head set, much like coaches and quaterbacks in football.

3. As soon as the replay umpire sees a call is wrong, no matter how close, he contacts the umpires and tells them to reverse it. If the call is inconclusive after a few replays, the play stands as its original call. This process could take less than a minute, which is obviously less time than it would take to have the managers come out and whine about everything and possibly get ejected.

The bottom line is that in 2009 and beyond, there is no excuse for baseball anymore. Replays are literally instant on television and Major League Baseball needs to utilize this technology to make sure that the most important thing in the game–getting the calls right–is as close to perfect as possible.

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