Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hey, Bud, on further review ...

I’m a closet purist about baseball, but even I have to admit that full use of instant replay might be the only rational option baseball officials have to save their game from the blundering men in blue.
As a former baseball writer, I sat in ballparks and watched too many games decided – or altered -- on a call the umps missed.
But no blunder was more clear – or more egregious -- than what I saw the other day in the Angels-Yankees game. Umpire Tim McClelland, his ability to reason having been left in the umpire’s locker room, decided a base-running mix-up wasn't double play but one out, a ruling that allowed a Yankee base-runner to remain on third base even after he was the first of two runners tagged out at the bag.
McClelland butchered the call, something he acknowledged postgame upon seeing a video replay. Had baseball allowed him to use replay, he would have spared himself the public ridicule of explaining the unexplainable.
For there was no disputing that video. It could have done what McClelland and fellow umps couldn’t that night: get the call right.
Replay has been a contentious topic. I have weighed in on the subject. I know baseball has never been perfect and never will be. The sport relies on humans, and humans make mistakes – plenty of mistakes. Baseball is, at its essence, a game of failure – as an Albert Pujols or a Derek Jeter 0-for-20 slump can prove.
Failures and blunders aren’t in the same ballpark, and to see games turned upside down because of the latter worries a purist, particularly when the blunder affects the team they root for.
Throw out the clowns in blue. Send in the cameras.
Now, I’m not really suggesting that umps have no place in baseball. I wouldn’t wantdronescalling balls and strikes. Technology can take away the game’s humanity. But technology does have its place – a bigger place than Commissioner Bud Selig has given it.
Grudgingly, Selig dipped the sport into the technological waters when he approved instant replay for disputed calls on balls hit along the foul lines and for home runs.
"I said at the time when replay was instituted -- It was limited to that, and it will stay that way," Selig said in a recent Wall Street Journal article. "I think the human element is vital to baseball."
To bring replay into the sport at all took a truckload of disputed calls. Selig, a purist like me, had to admit the umps missed some of them. All along, his concern, as well as mine, was replays would slow the game. But he had seen replays in pro and college football, and the systems those sports put into place had worked well.
The NBA turned to replay as well, using it for shots that raised questions about whether they beat the clock. Replay has sorted out these dispute, the game no worst for its use.
Hockey and tennis use replay, because those sports care about accuracy. They know the shortcomings of humans. Baseball needs to recognize those shortcomings.
I would never expect Selig and baseball’s leadership to be on the cutting edge of a technological change of this kind, though. On some level, they still wrestle with the merits of the designated hitter. But if their choice is between slowing the game’s pace or ensuring a bad call doesn't taint a game’s outcome, Selig & Co. has no choice but to do what other forward-thinking sports tsars have done: rely on replay.
The integrity of the game is at risk.


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