If you follow baseball at all, you’ve probably heard about the (admittedly) blown call in Tuesday’s 19-inning marathon game between the Braves and the Pirates. I was watching this game live, and I couldn’t believe it. The throw beat the runner by a mile, and though McKenry was close to missing the tag, watching it in the moment and in a variety of replays, I still think that the umpire Jerry Meals made the wrong call. Not to say I’m not happy about the outcome… the Pirates are currently battling with my beloved Brewers and the Cardinals for the lead in the NL Central, so I was rooting for the Braves all the way. But I hate to see the game end like that, on an error by the umpire rather than a good play by either team. And it just makes me wonder . . . how long before they introduce instant replay for close calls like this?
Boston sportscaster Dan Roche is unsurprised by the fact that this call has fueled questions about instant replay, but believes that it shouldn’t be expanded beyond its current role of determining whether or not a hit is a home run:
I understand [calls for expanded use of instant replay], but I don’t think Bud Selig will go that far. And, I agree. I like the way instant replay is used now….to check home run or no home runs. Beyond that, I think it takes away the human elements and slows down the game. And, I think the calls eventually even out.
This argument makes absolutely no sense to me. “Takes away the human elements of the game”? Last time I checked, the “human elements” that should matter in baseball are the players, not the umpires. The MLB rulebook defines scoring as “each time a runner legally advances to and touches first, second, third and home base before three men are put out to end the inning”. It does not say anything about the judgment of the umpire. Now you might argue that the definition of legally assumes the judgment of the umpire. However, there are a number of other places in the rules where umpire judgment calls are made, and in each of those places, the fact that it will be a judgment call is specifically spelled out (for example, in the definition of “Infield Fly”, the phrases “umpire is to rule” and “umpire’s judgment must govern” are both used). In fact, I would argue that refusing to use instant replay in an effort to get the most accurate calls possible does more to take away from the “human elements” of the game by allowing human error to trump athleticism.
Even more ridiculous is the “slows down the game” argument. I could see that argument maybe making sense in the NFL, where I don’t recall seeing coaches storm the field and argue that frequently. But in baseball? Has Roche ever actually watched a baseball game? If you want to talk about the most pointless delays in pretty much any sport, managers arguing with the umpires are the first ones that spring to mind for me. Has anyone ever seen an umpire admit that they were wrong after having a manager come and yell at them? Maybe it has happened, but I’ve certainly never seen it. The only exciting thing about those arguments is trying to figure out if the manager is going to get thrown out or not. Why not put something in place so that there’s some recourse other than the manager futilely yelling at the ump for as long as it takes for him to feel like he’s put on a good show?
Lastly, I would expect that instant replay would cut down on the number of ejections. I can’t find any statistics on this, but my suspicion is that ejections per game are higher than in any other sport. Adding the limited use of instant replay (like in the NFL, where coaches are given two replay challenges per game, and a third if the first two challenges are upheld) would put the burden of using those responsibly on the coach. If you blow your early replays, you’ve made a choice to leave yourself at the mercy of the umpire for the rest of the game.
A lot of work might have to be put in to deciding the rules governing the use of replay, but it just boggles my mind that Major League Baseball would rather let umpires blow calls than use every resource available to them to make sure the most deserving team won. Here’s hoping my fellow Wisconsinite Bud Selig can make the right call on this (though I’m not holding my breath).