Yesterday, Major League Baseball and the World Umpires Association reached an agreement on instant replay. The agreement was the last hurdle the league needed to overcome before the use of replay could be made official. Replay will only be used in determining whether fly balls are fair or foul and if they went over the fence. It could start being used in stadiums as early as the end of this month, but it will definitely be used before the end of the season with cameras already being installed around the league.
We all knew that inevitably technology would catch up with the National Pastime. Replay has been used in some form in the other three major sports since 1986 when the NFL introduced limited instant replay. The NBA added replay at the beginning of last season to determine whether “buzzer-beaters” should count. There have been ups and downs with the replay systems, and each league has tweaked them in some manner since introducing replay to their respective leagues. Major League Baseball hopes that by introducing replay before the postseason that the umpires will have the bugs worked out by October.
That seems a bit far fetched to me. Introducing a new system at the end of a season a month before the beginning of the postseason is a bad move. The umpires will be working with a system that they have never even looked at before. There is no way that the umpires will have the kinks worked out by October, and I’m sure that some questions will still need to be answered before the start of next season. Give the umpires the off-season to train with the new systems, and to work together with it. Use spring training as a test, and roll it out at the start of the 2009 season.
So the question is why is the league introducing instant replay so late into the season? The answer is unfortunately all of us. The fans and writers and sports talk guys and Baseball Tonight guys and anyone who talks about the game have been upset about a call and want something done about it now. The league fell to that pressure and are sadly moving a little too quickly on this one. Sure the general managers voted for instant replay late last year, but the league moved ahead without consulting the umpires or the Players’ Association. They cleared one hurdle with the umpires we will have to wait and see if the Players’ Association makes a move.
If instant replay does go into effect sometime before the end of this season I will be a little more than sad. One of big reasons I enjoy baseball is that humans make all the decisions. Which leaves the game open to human error. Part of the game is hating the umpires when they make a call against your team, and loving them when they make one for. So why take that away? Just because Alex Rodriguez missed out on a home run? Or because a 12-year-old kid gave one to Derek Jeter? That’s part of the fun. It adds to the mystique of the game. It gives you something to talk about the next day or even 20 years from now. You think people in St. Louis would still grumble about the 1985 World Series if instant replay was involved? No.
I know that I may be getting a bit nostalgic, and that (for right now) instant replay only effects fly balls. How far are we away from instant replay involving plays at first or at home plate? Much discussion was made about the Colorado Rockies last season, and whether or not Matt Holliday touched home (he didn’t). What if that was taken away because of instant replay? What would we have to talk about? Humans make mistakes. Today I bought the wrong kind of Cheez-Its. Umpire Don Denkinger made a bad call that cost the Cardinals the World Series some 23 years ago. He apologized for it afterwards and received death threats because of it, but it is a memory of the game in its purest form with all the bad calls and errors that either make you pull your hair out or jump for joy. If this is the first step down that dark path to the dark side and instant replay on all questionable calls we will all lose a little bit about what we love about this game. Human error.