metafrantic (metafrantic) wrote in baseballblog,
metafrantic
metafrantic
baseballblog

The more things change...

In a six-day span, major league umpires blew four calls on batted balls that should have been declared home runs. Largely as a result, MLB announced they may test the use of instant replay in the Arizona Fall league. And countless media outlets have been debating the use of instant replay, however minimal, in baseball. The general consensus is heavily slanted in favor of instant replay, including SI's Tom Verducci.

I mention Verducci specifically because I usually like him as a baseball journalist; he does sometimes allow his emotions to influence his writing, but for the most part he tends to look at things fairly rationally; while I don't always agree with his conclusions, I usually find his stories well-researched and considerate of all perspectives. I was therefore pretty disappointed by the above article, which seems more knee-jerk reactionary than usual for him.

First, to be clear: MLB is only considering using instant replay in very limited ways... possibly only on fair/foul HR calls, possibly only for "game-changing" situations, possibly only in the 8th and 9th innings. It's all undetermined; they're formulating a proposal right now.

Verducci thinks instant replay should be approved immediately and implemented following the All-Star Break this season. Here's his reasoning, and my responses (bolded text are quotes from Verducci's article):

1. General managers voted overwhelmingly, 25-5, six months ago to pursue the practice of using instant replay to clarify so-called boundary calls, when umpires need help in determining a potential home run. Major league managers, with little exception, have endorsed the concept.
So in other words, the acceptance of instant replay is not universal amongst GMs and managers; heavily favored, but some still object. That's a good reason for MLB to take its time and make certain they please as many people as possible.

2. And the umpires are on board with this. I've talked with umpires about the difficulty in making such calls and they don't mind the technological help... They want to get it right. They don't need the awful feeling of knowing the video will go viral in exposing their mistake.
Has he talked to all of the umpires? I doubt it. As with GMs and managers, I suspect that there are some who object, even if they're in the minority.

3. Fans like the idea and are accustomed to technological help.
Wow, that's a dramatically gross generalization. Every time I see the subject brought up in online baseball discussions, the subject is hotly debated. Many fans favor instant replay, but many fans object as well. And baseball fans aren't "accustomed to technological help", because that help hasn't been implemented in baseball yet. Not all baseball fans are also football fans, or hockey fans, sports where instant replay is already used. What baseball fans are accustomed to is seeing replays on their TVs, but that's not even close to the same thing as seeing replay used to affect the outcome of the game.

4. Word came that baseball may give instant replay a test run in the Arizona Fall League. Now there's a grand idea. Test it out in tiny minor league parks with almost no fans in attendance and skeleton TV crews. It's akin to road testing a Lamborghini in a school zone.
Sarcasm in sports journalism is always a red flag for a poorly thought out argument. Fan attendance will not affect the use of instant replay - if it did, the Rays would have a serious disadvantage with it. Nor would the size of the parks affect the testing; not all major league parks are the same size anyway. The point is to test the use of instant replay in certain situations, which can and will occur regardless of how many people are watching or where the games are played.

5. And what exactly needs to be "tested"? The technology? Take the home run Delgado lost at Yankee Stadium. You knew in about 15 seconds that it should have been a home run.... What Selig should do is push the umpires and the players association to sign off on instant replay immediately, to be instituted after the All-Star break.
What needs to be tested isn't the technology, but how the technology is used. Any time a new system is implemented, the best thing to do is test it out in order to eliminate variables as well as to flush out any potential problems so they can be addressed before they really matter. I'd much prefer to have them wait until they're sure mistakes with the system are minimized before they implement it; it's going to be tough enough getting some people to accept instant replay as it is, even without bugs in the system.

6. Baseball embarrasses itself with each blown home run call in the interim and risks a playoff race decided by a clear-cut injustice.
Like how baseball embarrassed itself with the countless other blown calls that have happened in the last 100-plus years of the sport? These mistaken calls may be frustrating and painful to watch, but baseball has survived this long with them; they can afford to wait a bit longer until the instant replay system is as flawless as possible.

7. One theory is that Selig and the baseball establishment don't want to slow down the game. Replay in these cases, however, might actually speed up the game. Say goodbye to those long arguments when teams try to convince the umpires to overturn the call.
This I agree with; the argument that instant replay will slow the game down is false; if implemented correctly there's no reason it should take longer, or even as long, as the argument it would eliminate. And the time shouldn't really matter anyway. I think there's too much focus on speeding the game up right now; shaving ten minutes at best from a three hour game shouldn't matter that much. A lot of us fans don't actually mind the length.

8. [Baseball should] assign designated replay officials to immediately review replays and send word to the field of the proper call. Those officials could sit in a central office in front of a bank of television monitors carrying all games, or they could be assigned to the each ballpark with access to TV feeds.
Not a bad idea, although these people would have to be thoroughly trained, just as umpires are (Another reason to take their time implementing this).

9. Resistance also is wrapped up in this idea that you don't want to remove the "human element" from baseball. Nobody is looking to replace umpires with robots. Nobody wants to review every pitch on the black or every bang-bang call at first base. This is one narrowly defined usage.
True (if a bit overly ironic), and a common misconception amongst a lot of opponents of instant replay. (I'll comment more about the "human element" later.)

10. Instant reply is not in cutting-edge territory here, folks, unless baseball is so hidebound by tradition that common sense is considered avant garde. It has become as clear as the hi-def picture on a 1080p plasma television. We don't need another week like this, nor another day, nor more proof that the technology works. The time to act is instantly.
Verducci again misses the point here. I haven't really heard anyone say the technology isn't ready; baseball simply isn't prepared to slap that technology in place and see what happens. I think that's a good thing.

***


One thing I haven't seen brought up about instant replay is this: How would instant replay affect the comparison of modern players to older ones?

In his career, Babe Ruth probably had at least 49 "close calls" on long fly balls where the call didn't go his way. If he'd had instant replay, would he actually still have more HR than Barry Bonds? Or would Bonds still have more HR if he'd had the same benefit? Or would Hank Aaron top them both?

Just like steroids, the "live ball" and the DH, instant replay will create a situation where players benefit from (or are hurt by) something their predecessors didn't have. That's not necessarily a vote for or against; after all, the best way to judge a player is always within the context of his era, compared to his peers.

***


In 2003, the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Miami Hurricanes in the college football BCS championship game.

In the first overtime, losing 24-17, the Buckeyes threw what was initially called an incomplete pass on 4th down, which would have given the Hurricanes the victory. But a penalty flag was thrown on the play, declaring pass interference. The Buckeyes got the ball back, scored a touchdown to tie the game, and eventually won in double overtime.

A guy I knew at the time was a Miami alum, and was horribly depressed about the loss. But when I asked him if he was furious about the pass interference call that cost Miami the game, he replied: "That one play didn't cost them the game. There were plenty of plays they didn't execute, and all of them contributed to the loss. I'm sad they lost, but I'm not going to blame the one bad call for costing them the game."

This has always seemed to me to be a good illustration of how "the human element" in refereeing or umpiring is kind of overblown as a factor. In a perfect world, every call will be right, but there's no such thing as perfect, and even if computers were used to make every single call, some would still be wrong. But suggesting that one call was responsible for a baseball team losing is ignoring all the missed chances to get hits or strike out the batter, and places all blame on one single thing. It's misleading to suggest that that one call, however monumental it might seem, was any more (or less) important than all the other elements that went into the game.

Having said that... Overall, I'm cautiously in favor of instant replay, depending on how and in what situations it would be used. I'm actually glad to see MLB taking its time with this, and I'm very curious as to how the situation resolves. I think that, if it's used in very specific circumstances and if the way of implementing it is well thought out and well executed, it will help eliminate errors and will make the games' outcomes be more completely decided by the players on the field, which is how it should be.
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