Let’s Go to the Video Tape Baseball

Three missed calls on would be home runs within four days forced baseball to act on the age-old instant replay question this week. Reports say MLB will trial instant replay during the Arizona Fall League, then continue in the World Baseball Classic and spring training next March, before deciding to implement during the season. Talk about sticking your toes in the water before jumping.

Instant replay is long overdue in baseball, the last major American sport not using technology to correct calls. The commissioner and many purists still oppose instant replay stating a myriad of reasons, most of which boil down to tradition. America’s pastime is as old-fashioned as sports get, yet a line exists where tradition can impede progress and hurt the sport. It should not take three bad calls in one week to realize that.

Contrary to popular belief, using instant replay for select calls will not noticeably lengthen games. In fact, it may shorten games. Umpires routinely have to huddle up on questionable calls, followed by a visit from the dugout by each manager, an explanation, and potential argument. Managers have the right to argue, what could these umpires discuss on the field? It’s not a judgment call, where they interpret and analyze what they see, balls are either fair or foul, home runs or not – it should be black and white. They either saw it or they didn’t, no need for a group presentation to figure it out.

With replay, managers have nothing to argue, no reason to get ejected, the video will never lie. In a worst case scenario, if baseball decides to have umpires on the field review the play from a camera well, it will take the same time it does for their meaningless on field meetings. Best case, a replay official from MLB offices will have the decision in under two minutes.

Tradition should not stand in the way of integrity. Changing the height of the pitcher’s mound affects play on the field more than using instant replay to get a call right. Replay will have no affect on the balls and strikes, which varies for each umpire, and the bang-bang safe or out calls on the bases. Those calls are subject to human error, they help make baseball what it is. Everyone has a different interpretation of the strike zone, it makes for great debate.

To be fair to umpires, home run calls and fair-foul calls are difficult to make from over 200 feet away at times. Throw in the various nooks and crannies of the new ballparks, sometimes it’s just impossible to get a good view. These are non-judgment calls, the goal is to get the call right, reward the right team. If today’s technology can do that, and do it quickly and accurately, what are we waiting for.

If baseball ever considers using replay on the judgment calls that umpires make then we have problems. That infringes on tradition, that changes the dynamic of the game.