Column: MLB Making Error with Instant Replay

Starting next year, Major League Baseball (MLB) will institute limited instant replay to decide close plays and the, on the whole, rare missed-calls by its professional umpires. I say Boooo! While all of us want all the calls to be right so the deserving team wins based on its true merit, Instant Replay will ruin practically the last thing in America that isn’t ruled by technology.

In short, Instant Replay will assuredly damage our National Pastime. This is why:

1) Baseball is known as a “game of inches.” A hitter being called safe or out on a close play can make the difference between victory and defeat. Whether a hitter went “around” and actually swung at a pitch – a matter of an inch, more often than not – can be the difference between an inning-ending strikeout or a walk-off home run on the next pitch. The number of challenges demanded by fans (and managers) in this “game of inches” won’t stop at the three now proposed by MLB. Baseball is a game of never-ending close plays, but in most games, the good and bad calls even out. An infinitesimal amount of games over baseball’s many decades have been played over the years but very few under protest because of a bad call.

2) Controversy is a boon to the sport, not a hindrance. Baseball’s folklore is filled with discussions and arguments over controversial plays. Baseball fans still talk about “The Jeffrey Maier Play” in the ’96 playoffs or whether Reggie Jackson intentionally allowed a ball to hit him, breaking up a double play in the ’77 World Series. This is the stuff of baseball legend – the stuff people reminisce about with phrases like, “I remember where I was when Ed Armbrister supposedly interfered with Carlton Fisk’s throw to 2nd base in the ’75 Series or the non-strikeout of A.J. Pierzynski in the 2005 American League Championship Series.

Controversy – without the resolution provided by the latest technology – helps enshrine the folklore of the game. It engenders the passion of the game decades after the actual play took place. Instant Replay would severely water down that experience. If there were Instant Replay during the World Series of 1932 we would all now know for absolute sure that Babe Ruth did or did not point to center field, “calling his shot” against Cubs pitcher Charlie Root. The reason Ruth’s “Called Shot” is still talked about today is precisely because we don’t know whether he actually called it! The dimension of controversy, so important to the lore of the game, would be a thing of the past if Instant Replay was implemented.

3) Eliminate Home Plate Umpire? One of the arguments for Instant Replay is that the technology is here to be able to get the calls right. What happens when the technology of invisible lasers is available (if it isn’t already!) that can call balls and strikes – all judgment calls – eliminating the need for a home plate umpire? Will technology then take over the entire game? Is it not conceivable that every “call” in the near future will be made from the press box using the latest technology?

4) No More Arguments? Part of the fun of the game is watching a manager argue with an umpire who he feels made a bad call. It’s exciting to see a manager thrown out of a ball game. It’s one of the things that gets fans “up” in a game. With Instant Replay it becomes a much calmer, less exciting game. I’ll take the passions of the managers over the years like Earl Weaver and Tommy Lasorda over a video operator any day!

5) Finally, what’s this fixation we have with making sure every single call is right? What baseball teaches us is that, like in a real life, if something doesn’t go our way, even if it’s unfair, we have to make the best of it and move on. To try to win despite the bad breaks! It’s why baseball, the way it has always been, is a good lesson to adults and kids alike: the game, like life, doesn’t stop to determine fairness at every turn. We’ve all heard the old adage “Life is unfair.” Well, so is baseball sometimes. It moves along despite the rare bad call. The best  judgments are made by the well-trained “judges” on the field, the umpires. They sometimes get it wrong but much more often, and with phenomenal skill, they get it right. Most ballplayers will tell you that over the course of a game (and certainly an entire season) the calls even out.

So, Major League Baseball,tread lightly now that you’ve entered the world of instant replay. They say, marijuana is a gateway drug. In that vein, I fear the limited use of replay in baseball will lead to much greater use of it in the not-so distant future. In a “game of inches”, the challenges allowed each team will eventually be increased and the game will bog down. Machines will have won, not the fans.

The great game, as it is has worked for 146 years. Fans watching the Cincinnati Reds in 2013 at The Great American Ballpark are experiencing baseball in basically the same way fans did who saw the Cincinnati Red Stockings at Union Park in 1869. Why change something that is already so good by instituting a policy sure to change the game’s natural, almost poetic flow? 

Seth Swirsky is a hit songwriter, filmmaker and the author of the bestsellers Baseball Letters and Every Pitcher Tells A Story


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