7/15: Instant Replay in the MLB

By John Sparks

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
-Alexander Pope

sparks-caricature-440A whopping 73% of baseball fans have told the Marist Poll that they like the idea of expanding the use of instant replay in baseball.

For all of its shortcomings, television coverage of the baseball games has given the armchair fans the best seat in the house for close plays and determining whether a pitch is in the strike zone.

It’s also put more pressure on the umpires to make the correct calls, and when they don’t, it puts them in the hot seat and casts a shadow on the integrity of the game.

We know the men in blue are human just as we are.  They make mistakes.  If it’s a judgment call, the call is not subject to dispute.  If the ump errs and makes a ruling contrary to the rulebook, that’s another case and can cause the game to be played under protest.

So, should we apply the technology of television’s instant replay to become the final word on a judgment call?

I’m not so sure.  I have mixed feelings.

I’m all for correct calls, but I’m also concerned about long games.  I’m not crazy about the game being halted while officials study video replays on close calls.

Baseball showcases our shortcomings.  We post defensive errors for all to see in the line score.  Players in the field are so separated that there is never much doubt when one makes a mistake and which one that is.  On the field, a batter who fails 70 percent of the time is a hero who bats .300.

Some players and their mistakes become legends.  Ask Bill Buckner or Ralph Branca.  Sometimes, close calls which could go either way become the difference in the outcome of the game.  Sometimes, the emotions associated with them get the best of a team and turn the tide as well.

So, will the instant replay change all that?  No doubt it would make a difference and certainly correct egregious errors.  But, it won’t correct all of them.  There’s always the problem of the different angles, and sometimes they can show different results.

Alexander Pope wrote “To err is human, to forgive divine.” We saw that illustrated last month when first base umpire Jim Joyce cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game. Joyce admitted his error, and Galarraga forgave him.  It was the right thing to do, and it was classy.

Had the instant replay been in effect to overrule Joyce’s call it would have been a bizarre way to end such a triumph and undoubtedly would have taken some time to employ.  It’s hard to picture the fans waiting around in the stands in suspense to learn the outcome.

Regardless, I suspect MLB will adopt the instant replay in some form or fashion. It probably won’t be perfect and will be refined over time.  It may even bring about some new issues which we haven’t even thought about.