The Commish Online                                                                                
Get it Right With Instant Replay?
May 24, 2008

Several calls in recent weeks were botched on the field because the umpires ruled incorrectly on home run calls.  The significance was amplified because two of the calls involved New York players (Delgado and Arod).  Some of the public is screaming for MLB to get with the times and use instant replay.  The traditionalists want it all decided on the field by umps, right or wrong.  Who is right and how far can the game go with instant replay?

This week's topic:
Yes or no answer:  is it time for MLB to use instant replay for questionable calls?

Dewey: Definitely.  Selig has proven with expansion, interleague and the wild card, that the game CAN evolve successfully.  Instant replay is simply the next step toward an improving product.

Bunker: Replay has ripped the emotion out of the NFL and it will do the same to baseball.

D: How so?

B: When you take away the ability for the fan to watch a play and immediately react, you take away the emotion and, essentially, the fun.  It IS just a game, after all.

D: Baseball isn't football, and replay doesn't need to be used for every play.  It can be used to determine if a home run is fair or foul, or if the ball goes over the fence or not.  In the end, it's about getting the call right.

B: That's the problem.  Just knowing there's a "backup" makes umps hesitant.  It will actually change the way they make a call.

D: Why is that a bad thing?

B: Because suddenly you have MORE incorrect calls on the field, only to be corrected - possibly - by replay.  Hasn't anyone learned anything from the NFL?  The game is slower, the calls on the field are meaningless, and the refs never blow the whistle on ANY call that may require additional play if overturned.  Like I said, the refs have started changing the way they call the game.  A player would normally be ruled down, but instead they let the play continue because the ball came loose afterward.  A challenge is issued, time is wasted, and the refs eventually come to the same call they should have made in the first place.

D: So how would that happen in baseball?

B: Imagine a flyball that just goes over the fence for a home run, barely hitting the yellow line and bouncing back into play.  With replay a possibility, the ump goes against his instinct and doesn't signal a home run so the play can continue.  This way, the play can easily be overturned for a home run, but if the ump incorrectly signals a home run, you can't replay the hit the other way.  Now, the ump suddenly has to judge what base each player would have reached, no chance is given to throw a runner out, etc.  In other words, in an attempt to make the game more objective, a whole new wave of subjectivity is being introduced.

D: That's a bit of a stretch.  Umps will still call what they see, and replays will only be used when necessary, introducing more correct calls.  Obviously, limits will be put on what can be overturned, how many times replay can be used, etc.

B: You are oversimplifying it.

D: Exactly.  It's not rocket science.  If Carlos Delgado hits a 3-run homer but the ump calls it foul, someone in the booth can radio down to the field and tell them the ball was fair.

B: It's NOT that simple.  The booth would need to make that call before another pitch is thrown, which should be a matter of seconds.  If MLB institutes some kind of challenge process, then you've got another awkward situation - Delgado standing at home plate, patiently waiting for a call.  What does the pitcher do?  Stand on the mound and scratch himself?  Then what happens when the call is overturned?  Does Delgado - without seeing another pitch - toss his bat away again and trot around the bases, two minutes after he hit the ball?!  Does he just go to the dugout while the scoreboard updates the runs?  It's utterly ridiculous!

D: I fail to find what is so ridiculous about getting a call right.  Players work hard at what they do and fans spend plenty of money to see the finished product.  It is in everyone's best interest for the winning team to have properly earned it.

B: Not at the expense of the game of baseball itself.  For the last time - it's a game.  A wonderful, beautiful game, but still just a game, warts and all.  Replay still won't make it perfect unless you suck all the personality out of the game and let cameras make every out call, safe call, and every ball and strike call.  To satisfy misinformed fans like you, you want baseball to fix a few small problems which will cause larger problems.

D: There wouldn't be any larger problems.  The games wouldn't take longer because the slight increase in time for a replay will be more the offset by fewer exaggerated arguments by managers.  They will already know that the correct call will be made sooner or later.  Replay, however small in scale it may begin, will greatly increase the efficiency of the game.

B: We could also put every jaywalker in jail and keep the town free of all those who abuse the law in any way, making our society more efficient, but somehow I don't think that will make the town better.

D: You're overthinking it.

B: You're underthinking it.

D: Whatever.

B: Whatever.

The Commish's verdict:  Bunker
While everyone wants to see the right call made, it's never as easy as adding a few cameras and righting a wrong.  There are always extra implications when changing a call which Bunker pointed out nicely.  My personal opinion is that replay could probably be instituted for "fair or foul" home run calls only, but Dewey didn't pose much of an argument for replay beyond getting the call right, so the nod in this argument goes to Bunker.  Bunker did a great job explaining the implications of a changed call using the least obtrusive example.  He would have had a field day discussing the problems with overturning a call involving a "live" ball.  Dewey, like most fans, made a good point about the desire for correct calls, but, like most fans, lacked any substance in describing an ideal scenario worth adopting.