An Argument For Instant Replay in Baseball

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April 30th, 2012. Michael Bourne, the speedy leadoff hitter for the Atlanta Braves, attempts to steal 2nd base and is called out.  Bourne argues vehemently, causing manager Fredi Gonzalez to come out of the dugout to argue the call and protect his player.  As Gonzalez is arguing the call Terry Pendleton comes over to calm Bourne down and encourages him to go back to the dugout.  Gonzalez continues to argue for a couple of minutes before returning to the dugout himself.  Television replays clearly show Bourne was safe.  The batter, Martin Prado is walked and the next batter, Freddie Freeman, hits a two run home run to give the Braves a 2-0 lead, instead of what potentially could have been a 3-0 lead.  At this point, I go on my rant that’s usually heard at least once during every baseball game, where I throw something and yell out loud, as if my complaining will make any difference.

It is unfathomable in the age of iPhones, HD Television and technology which can allow a guy who has been dead for 16 years to perform a concert at Coachella, to not have instant replay in baseball.  I mean, I understand that baseball loves being behind the times on everything and Bud Selig seems to take some kind of senility-induced glee at baseball’s ever fading stature amongst the American sports landscape, but seriously, is utilizing technology, readily available to legitimize your sport that much to ask?

Critics of instant replay in baseball (essentially Bud Selig, his pet rock Biff, old white guys, and certain former players) make the following arguments.

1) It slows the game down.

2) It would be difficult to implement.

3) It would require an extra umpire or replay official.

4) It diminishes the role of the umpire.

5) It goes against tradition (aka it makes too much sense and old white guys don’t like it).

Of course, all of these arguments are idiotic and make about as much sense as the BCS, so lets break them down one at a time:

1) It slows the game down – This is perhaps the most ridiculous argument against instant replay, in my opinion.  I mean first of all, are people really concerned with slowing baseball down?  Every time the Yankees play the Red Sox, the game takes an average of 17 hours, yet these games receive the highest ratings.  Instant replay is the least of your worries when it comes to length of the game.  Stop players from walking to the dugout after every pitch and adjusting their batting gloves, install some kind of time limit per pitch, limit the number of times a pitcher can throw to first base, shorten commercial breaks or rid us of the designated hitter.  These are realistic options for speeding up the play of games, not replay, because….

Sure, checking something out on instant replay would take a minute, but guess what else takes a minute, ARGUING CALLS.  In the game tonight, almost three minutes ended up being wasted due to Fredi Gonzalez and Michael Bourne arguing a call that had no chance of changing.  I mean, I loved Bobby Cox as much as anyone and took great pride in his ejections record, but besides my own homer bias, I realize just how stupid arguing in baseball is.  It’s an unnecessary, time-consuming part of the game. If implemented right, instant replay would reduce game time, which leads me to the next argument…

2) It would be difficult to implement –This seems to be an issue that always comes up with instant replay and I can see why.  Unregulated, instant replay can become quite a burden on the enjoyment of watching a sport.  Just look at College Football, for me, it is almost unwatchable.  The replay system is set up so that the referees call the game in a way that necessitates using replay on roughly 110% of plays, leading to college football games taking even longer than the aforementioned Yankees/Red Sox games.   The NBA on the other hand uses a much more limited use of instant replay, but it is limited to the point that it becomes confusing and ineffective.  They review certain plays, at the end of quarters for instance, without reviewing other crucial plays, like when the play clock malfunctions, costing your favorite team a game in a crucial playoff race…but I digress.

So then, what type of replay system would I advocate implementing?  I would favor a system similar to what the NFL uses.  A manager would have one challenge per game, to be used on any play except balls and strikes.  If the manager wins the challenge, he gets another one, if he loses; he has no more challenges for the game.   All scoring plays could be reviewed by the booth if necessary.  For example, if Kirk Gibson wants to challenge that a ball is fair or foul, he calls for a challenge and a replay booth makes the call, quick and easy(more on this later).  If he wins, the play stands as is and he gets another challenge, but if he loses, he doesn’t get another challenge for the rest of the game, though if there was a close play at the plate, or a questionable call on a home run versus foul ball, the booth could still review it.  He would have until the pitcher throws his next pitch to call for a challenge and if at any point the manager comes out of the dugout to argue, he is automatically ejected, to include protecting players who are arguing.

Critics may ask who would be in the booth and in charge, and who pays for that???  Which leads to my critique of the next argument…

3) It would require an extra umpire or replay official – This is really a stupid argument, easy to shoot down.  Due to TV contracts, revenue sharing and the advancement of fantasy sports, among other things, baseball has experienced record revenue in recent years.  Baseball already uses six umpires for the playoffs and all-star games, so I would recommend using a five man crew, where every fifth day, a different umpire would work the replay booth.  This would satisfy the umpire’s union, as it would create an extra 15-20 jobs for major league umpires and while there is a cost associated, I don’t consider it to be outlandish when the results are faster gameplay and getting the call right, which leads to a more legitimate product.

And going back to the time of the game issue, I think a replay booth is the only way to go.  The current replay system, which has the umpires leave the field, is slow and inefficient.  By having the crew chief signal up to the booth, you could realistically have a decision in less than two minutes, far less than the average time the ole argument/ejection scenario takes.

This line of reasoning also solves the next argument…

4) It diminishes the role of the umpire – This is one of those traditionalist arguments, tailor made for people who loved segregation and Strom Thurmond.  Under my plan, it would be an umpire having control, as they would be the ones in the replay booth.  Furthermore, do you not think that Jim Joyce wouldn’t have loved some help when he blew Armando Galarraga’s perfect game?  I think we all appreciate that umpiring is an extremely difficult job and there are going to be mistakes.  Why not have a system in place which allows us to help facilitate umpires instead of stifle them?

But then there are those damned traditionalists…

5) It goes against tradition – Yeah, a lot of progressive steps in baseball have gone against tradition…things like, fielding gloves, helmets, integration and free agency.  Baseball seems to have these hard line traditionalist more than any other sport, particularly amongst those who play/coach/work in the sport.  I can appreciate the sentiment.  I’m not a huge fan of the new playoff system, I scoffed at interleague play and I hate the designated hitter.  But you know what, I still spend upwards of 40 hours a week watching, reading about, writing about or thinking about baseball.  In other words, I’m still here.  Old-timers would bitch and moan and in the end they would grow to appreciate the system, most definitely when it benefits their favorite team.

And so, there you have it.  It is high time Bud Selig and the powers that be get off their asses and do something about the ever present flaw in their sport.  On April 30th, the Braves ended up losing their game to the Pirates, 9-3.  Would they have lost if Fredi Gonzalez had been able to challenge that crucial play in the first inning?  I guess we’ll never know.

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About Left Hook from Right Field

The extraordinary everyman's guide to what makes my world tick.
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