Monday night, after a grueling, bug-infested softball doubleheader, I plopped on the couch and flicked on the Yankees/Orioles game on YES. The game was televised nationally on ESPN and with the NBA playoffs dormant for the night, it seemed most of the sports fans in the country were tuned into the hot, steamy action from Camden.
Barely two bites into my post-game victory sub, there was a moment of controversy when first base umpire Eric Cooper called Matt Wieters out on a bang-bang play at the bag. Within seconds — even before the television replay — there were countless screengrabs from people’s DVR posted to Twitter showing Wieters foot beating the ball to first baseman Lyle Overbay’s glove, many labeled with the mocking “human element” hashtag.
It proved to be a rough night for Cooper at first base. The previous inning he also blew a pickoff call on Brett Gardner, which also had plenty of Twitpics, yfrogs and, yes, even Lockerz posted instantly to point out Cooper’s error.
The more you look at it, no matter how long it drags its heels, Major League Baseball is going to have to acquiesce and adopt expansive instant replay review moving forward into the 2014 season and beyond, something Bud Selig and Joe Torre acknowledged last week after the uproar caused by multiple blown calls.
There’s no other way to put it: we’ve become a nation of replay officials.
Anybody can pause and rewind a game on their HDTV, post the mistake in either picture or GIF form within a matter of minutes, if not seconds. The idea of allowing the so-called “human element” as a part of sports seems as antiquated as a nuclear family sitting around the breakfast table together in the morning, gobbling up bacon, eggs and digging through the daily newspaper.
Critics for implementing full-blown replay speculate how it would slow the game down and why slow down a game that already moves at a leisurely pace? As a longtime baseball fan, it’s hard to argue against that line of thinking. It seems to go against the fiber of the sport to stop the game and check a replay to determine a call at first base.
That said, isn’t the ultimate goal of officiating in all sports to get the calls correct? Granted, we’ve already seen even with replay Angel Hernandez still doesn’t know what is or isn’t a home run, but some sort of technological aid, be it a replay official in the booth or, down the road, a computerized judgement system akin to what’s used in professional tennis to determine boundary calls should help baseball.
Technology has to play a part, in some form, as to why younger sports fans deride the “human element.” Umpires have been screwing up judgment calls since the 1800s. In yesteryear fans might not have liked it — 1985 St. Louis Cardinal famously come to mind– but when umps blew a call it didn’t trigger arguments that the entire officiating system should be blown up by the commissioner’s office. Most people were okay to chalk it up to “things happen” or “nobody’s perfect” and move on.
Compare that to many people under 35, who’ve been raised playing sports video games and are connected to the Internet all their lives. From the moment you first blew into the cartridge and fired up “RBI Baseball” on NES and stepped inside TenGen Stadium you came to realize robo-umps are always right, never show emotion or give you the benefit of the doubt. A fair ball is always fair, a foul ball always foul and no matter how close it looked on that hot-shot snared by Terry Pendleton at third, you were still out running to first.
It’s probably one of the reasons why most younger fans wouldn’t mind a brief (stress brief) delay as the umps figured out the correct call with the help of replay.
If and when MLB decides to go forward with expanded replays — everything aside from balls and strikes seems in play according to Selig — it has to make sure it gets it right. Baseball can’t allow replay to turn into the boondoggle it often is during football, where it seems to take upwards of five minutes or more for a referee to make a call once he goes under the hood. Again, nobody wants baseball games to get longer than they already are.
A simple buzz from a replay official in the booth upstairs to a umpire on the field shouldn’t take very long. Close calls in baseball tend to be more black and white than reviewed plays in a football game.
There are plenty of avenues to explore. If you polled 10 baseball fans, they’d likely give 10 different ways to use replay in the game. Baseball would be wise to adopt something more in line with the NHL’s manner of reviewing goals than the confounding NFL challenge process.
Sensing the sea change among most of baseball, MLB officials should take their time to explore every avenue to come up with the most equatiable system that still gives the umpires on the field power, doesn’t grind the games to a halt and ensures the proper call is made 99.9999 percent of the time.
We have the technology available and unless we use it, baseball is going to continually have egg on its face.
If MLB is going to cross the replay threshold full bore, it needs to make sure it takes its time to explore all its options before making a decision, one that balances the game’s traditions along with modern technology and mindsets. As bad as blown calls are over the course of 162-game season, a flawed replay system that screws with the game would potentially be much worse.
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