Yesterday, MLB owners approved the expansion of Instant Replay in baseball, meaning that more calls would be reviewable, like fair/foul, safe/out, basically it’s a lot more than the initial home run rulings in 2008. Also included in this overhaul is the manager’s right to challenge, like in the case of NFL head coaches. Managers would get two challenges, which could be used from innings 1-7. with any further calls to be handled at the umpire’s discretion.
Now, depending on who you are, you either find this to be a major improvement, like Bruce Bochy and Max Scherzer, or the equivalent of going to the dentist for a root canal, like many sportswriters had predicted.
My guess is if you’re one of those fans who feel that your team is constantly jilted by bad calls, this may just give your team a few extra wins. Maybe also if you’re a technophile, you are intrigued by how the integration of computers will affect such a pastoral game. And to be honest, good for you. You know that the sports world has been changing for years. You saw it in football, then in basketball, then in hockey, and soccer and tennis, and pretty much every sport under the sun, it was about time that baseball adapted to modern times, after all, this is the big four league that has gone the longest without adding an expansion franchise, was the last to add a league-centric network, was the last to adopt interleague play, let alone year long interleague play, and has two teams that play in ballparks that predate World War I. So clearly, this is a victory in your mind.
On the other side are the purists, and to be completely honest, you have to feel for them. I’m talking more about the pre-1970 purists, those who feel that the game has been watered down by the three divisions in each league, the introduction of the Wild card as well as the expanded wild card, the decision to make the All-star game a deciding factor for home field advantage in the World Series. Those who feel that Florida and Arizona were only meant to be Spring Training sites, not homes to major league teams, domed and retractable roof ballparks, and of course, the dreaded designated hitter. They feel that there should be a human element in the game, that umpires have a right to make a mistake once in a while, and that the inclusion of the replay system clearly undermines the umpire’s authority and destroys one of the cultural hallmarks of a pastime, making it more serious than it should be.
If I were to put myself onto any side, I’d probably label myself as a progressive baseball fan with a few purist leanings. By the time I became a fan in 2002, the three division per league concept had been the norm for almost a decade, interleague play was in its fifth year, the wild card had started to gain a certain degree of relevancy, thanks in part to the Florida Marlins 1997 title as well as the Wild World Series of 2002. A year prior, the Diamondbacks had proven that being an expansion team was not an excuse to get high draft picks, and the retractable roof ballpark was a great way for fans to enjoy baseball without the pain of a rain delay. I love the World Baseball Classic, and the idea of globalizing the National Pastime. Every time I see a player who comes from a new country, I’m impressed that he’s managed to make it out of his country’s culture into ours. It’s fascinating.
However, for all of the progressive things that I liked, there were things that I disliked. When the All-Star game format was changed in 2003, I saw it as stupid, even if I had only had seen the dreaded 2002 game which ended in a tie. I found that steroid testing was ridiculous, and instant replay as a way of saying that umpires were too stupid to make the right call. I find that a lot of contracts these days are starting to get out of hand and teams are paying dearly for last year’s statistical output. I find mascots to be cheap and stupid ways to entertain kids who clearly shouldn’t be at games if their attention can’t be held for more than five minutes (this is sad, as our generation seems to gravitate towards that trend more and more each passing day). I dislike teams trying to go back to minimalist looks with generic roundel logos instead of carving their own identities (I’m referring to the Indians, Pirates, Padres, Nationals, you get the point). I hate how people are starting to mix politics with sports, like the Chief Wahoo debate, and I really can’t talk to anyone who forces the newfangled sabrmetric inventions like UZR and WAR on me Just leave me with my old fashioned stats and scouting reports, and I’ll be fine.
But that doesn’t answer the question fully, What about this new form of Instant Replay?
First of all, I did make a legitimate gripe against instant replay in my purist rant. I feel that it demeans the umpire. The umpire is a human being after all, and is bound to make mistakes. Granted, some of those mistakes are bound to get him blacklisted by a certain team’s fans, see Don Denkinger and the Cardinals, Jim Joyce and the Tigers, Jerry Meals and the Pirates, but if you really feel that you need to kill an umpire or do him bodily harm for making a mistake, then you are a sad excuse for a human being. Nobody’s perfect, mind you, and life isn’t fair. If you feel that the only way to get rid of that disappointment is to exact Hammurabi’s Code on that person who screwed you over, then you really have issues. I’ll admit that I’m a technophile. I like jumbotrons in stadiae, sue me. I’m inclined to check my fantasy team once every three innings during a game. I’ll tweet during a game or post a Facebook status. But in regards to the instant replay, I feel that that’s going too far. What about those teams that do benefit from the miscalls? Would the Marlins have won the Series in 1997 if Livan Hernandez didn’t have the strike zone he did? Would the Royals have managed to claw back in 1985 if Denkinger hadn’t made that call? And for the teams that feel that they were screwed by bad calls. Would Armando Galarraga have had a great major league career if Jim Joyce had called Jason Donald out? Would the Orioles have gone on to become a dynasty if Jeffery Maier hadn’t stuck his glove over the Yankee Stadium fence?
There are bad calls, and then there are egregiously bad calls. We saw this in 2012 in football, when the replacement referees screwed the Green Bay Packers and unintentionally made Russell Wilson into a star and the Seahawks into America’s favorite team. Would Russell Wilson won Rookie of the Year and led Seattle to the playoffs if Ed Hochuli’s crew had refereed that game?
The point is, there is a time for progressivism in sport, and there’s a time to criticize referees and umpires for making a mistake, but to undermine their authority by letting a soulless robot do the judging is clearly overstepping a boundary. It’s a big mistake, and it’s going to hurt baseball, not because it will be time consuming but it erodes at the pastoral aspect of the game.