Friday, June 4, 2010

Re-Addressing Instant Replay

I've shared my thoughts on instant replay before on this blog, but the blown-call the other night has reignited the debate and so I want to take the opportunity to address it again. I've watched ESPN, MLB Network, and read a number of articles/posts about the debacle the other night and heard some pretty crazy stuff from the anti-instant replay camp. First, let's summarize.

By now everyone knows: Jim Joyce blows a call on what would have been the final out of a perfect game for Armando Galarraga. Joyce admits in a press conference after the game that he blew the call. Galarraga and Leyland do a absolutely fantastic job of handling the situation in the media and yesterday, Galarraga hands Joyce the lineup card at home plate prior to the game in what was a very classy gesture on the part of the Tigers. Meanwhile, Bud Selig decides not to overturn the call and this was his quote.

"As Jim Joyce said in his postgame comments, there is no dispute that last night's game should have ended differently. While the human element has always been an integral part of baseball, it is vital that mistakes on the field be addressed. Given last night's call and other recent events, I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features. Before I announce any decisions, I will consult with all appropriate parties, including our two unions and the Special Committee for On-Field Matters, which consists of field managers, general managers, club owners and presidents."

 Here's my issue. In that statement, Selig says, "...there is no dispute that last night's game should have ended differently." Ok. Then change it. It wasn't like the blown call happened in the bottom of the 6th inning thus making it impossible to say what would have happened next. It was the LAST OUT of the game, had the call been made correctly, the game would have been over, no more outs, no more batters, no more action. In reading around, the opinion among ballplayers and managers IN BASEBALL is almost universal that Selig should have awarded Galarraga the perfecto. Joe Girardi said, "I’ve got to say we’ll never see it again in our lifetime." Tony LaRussa said, "If I was Mr. Selig, in the best interest of the game, the guy got it and I’d give him his perfect game." Clay Buchholz said (not sure why anyway cares, but whatever), "As blatant as it was, the commissioner needed to fix it, [...] it’s history. It’s not like he was throwing a shutout and a call got blown." And on and on and on.

There are a number of writers out there, including this writer at Yahoo Sports, who say that Selig shouldn't overturn the call because of the precedent it sets calling it a "slippery slope." I have to disagree. Everyone with working eyes can see that the call was blown. The ump who made the call said it was blown, the commissioner of baseball agrees with the umpire...the call on the FINAL OUT of the game was blown. You have long-time managers saying it should be overturned, veterans of the game like Milt Pappas (who was himself robbed of a perfect game) saying it should be overturned, the majority of fans calling for a reversal. This is such an exceptional situation, one that will likely not be seen again for a long, long time if ever, that to reverse the call does not degrade or demean the Rules of Baseball, if anything it upholds the integrity of the game.

All that being said, the real argument here is for the expansion of instant replay in baseball. I'm really tired of hearing people who don't like instant replay say something like, "well games are gonna take 4 or 5 hours if you expand replay." NO, THEY AREN'T. Oh, and then there are the people who say, "how do you say what can be challenged and what can't, pretty soon they'll be challenging everything!" NO, THEY WON'T. I swear, it's like the people with microphones in baseball never watch other sports. Football has the perfect template for instant replay and it's one that baseball could adopt and implement by next week if they wanted to. In football, there is a fairly clear distinction between what can be challenged and what cannot. Sure it took awhile for the fans to get used to the system, but now everyone knows a 'pass interference' call cannot be challenged, but a fumble call can.

To the people that say, "games are gonna take 4 or 5 hours," I say, give each team 1 or 2 'challenges' per game, just like they do in football. There's no need to unnecessarily bog the game down with challenge after challenge, 1 or 2 and that's it. More than likely, managers would be inclined to save their challenges for the later innings of a close game rather than blow it on a banger at 1st in the early innings. Or, baseball could limit challenges to the 7th inning on, a less desirable solution, but a step in the right direction nevertheless.

As far as the actual administration of instant replay goes, MLB could go one of three ways:

1) Have the umpires who are working the game come to the screens that are already sitting there to review the replay and make the call. This, to me, is the worst option. Making all of the umpires come off the field makes an already slow game slower.

2) Have a "replay" official at every game. There is some definite cost involved in this option, but as far as expediency goes, it's likely the best option. A play is challenged, the replay official has the job of making the call, he does so, relays his verdict to the crew chief and the game continues.

3) Adopt a system like the NHL has. If a play is challenged in the NHL, a call is made to the 'replay center' in Toronto where a designated league official reviews the replay from the available angles and then passes his verdict on to the head referee at that game who makes the call on the ice. In the playoffs, they have someone at the game. This system is ideal because it is both expedient and cost effective.

Something needs to be done and it's not just because of the call in Wednesday night's game. There have been blown calls that have affected the outcomes of games for years, most memorably in last year's various playoff series. Why baseball continues to be so noncommittal with instant replay is beyond me. They have the technology at every game, but they only want to use it for something as basic as home-run calls. MLB, please put a system in place that removes some of this "human error" crap. You can still have human error behind the plate calling balls and strikes, just don't let it take away someone's truly remarkable accomplishment.


  1. There is no possible set of rules that would allow a reversal here but not cause a huge amount of problems for the game. Just because it happened on the last play and everyone agrees the call was wrong isn't sufficient justification, even if it feels right.

    I do agree on the replays though. The NHL actually reviews every single goal (7000 instant replay reviews a year?) and is the best paced game out there.

  2. I know a "one time" thing is probably 'rose-colored glasses' in the sense that even if the language that was associated with the reversal was firm, it would still open up a door that baseball does not want to go through...but still, like I said, the circumstances here were so exceptional. If there was ever an acceptable "one time" thing, this would be it, no?

  3. I think there is more value to them being consistent than value gained from fixing this, admittedly bad, mistake and giving the rules a sense of arbitrary-ness.

    You know something similar to this is going to happen again, and in an important game. And then Selig is screwed and we'll never hear the end of it. '85 World Series isn't that far off.

    Even if the criteria is "no one would be hurt by the decision, only people happy, and just correcting a mistake".. There has to be at least a dozen other cases that this would include, even if they are minor cases. Not to mention, this rule could only benefit pitchers.

  4. Yeah, i mean, it doesn't surprise me that he (Selig) didn't overturn it, I understand the argument there. I guess more than arguing that the call should be overturned, I'm arguing for expanded replay which would fix all of these problems and render the overturn v. don't overturn argument moot.

  5. I'm totally against instant replay. Not because it would make games longer or anything. Instant replay just goes against the culture and the style of the sport. It would just be sterilizing baseball. What next? Lazar foul lines? Computers calling balls and strikes? Yuck.

    Bad calls are a part of the game. The umpire makes a bad call, you go out there and make a big stink about it. Maybe you’ll be ejected, or maybe you’ll get a break on the next call. Bad calls make the game more interesting and human.

    And frankly, bad calls don’t really matter. Fans just usually make them out to be a much bigger deal than they are (because that’s a fans job—call the umpires morons and blame all your team’s misgivings on them).

    Think about it. In the grand scheme of things, what did the bad call really do to Galarraga? Prevented his name from being placed in a selective list in a stat book? He’s certainly not missing out on getting attention or recognition for his achievement. He’s certainly not going to be forgotten. In fact, the whole story will probably become a bigger piece of baseball folklore than Hallady’s perfecto earlier in the week. So what, in reality, was he robbed of? Being in a stat book? Being able to say, “I pitched a perfect game” (which he really can still say)?

    I think if we just all calm down and look at the big picture, this really isn’t such the tragedy that everyone makes it out to be.

  6. Myjah, you spoke to the 'slippery slope' argument I'm hearing a lot of out there. There seems to be this unnecessary fear that if baseball adds (or expands, rather) instant replay that soon the whole game is going to become mechanical. I disagree with this sentiment, I think we should use the technology to benefit the game. Whether the addition of technology to the game makes it better, well, I guess that's up for debate.

    I agree with you that in a 'big picture' sense Galarraga wasn't robbed of anything, but in terms of history he was. Ken Griffey Jr. retired earlier this week and while you and I can sit there and remember how great of a player he was because we saw him play, future generations will only have his very impressive numbers to look at, along with some videos here and there. Galarraga was robbed of the 'officialness' of his achievement. You and I will remember the play, but the record books will not and to me, when it comes to baseball, the stats and records are just as much a part of the game as the "human element." Even if replay is expanded, that human element will still exist.

  7. I wasn't trying to make a slippery slope argument, but I can see how it was interpreted that way. My examples were only meant to highlight why I don't like instant replay. It's unnatural for a sport that is so inexact to begin with.

    It's flat out wrong to say players can only go down in history as their numbers. I certainly do not know who Marvin Throneberry was because of numbers. I don't know who Joe Jackson was because of numbers. I am certain Barry Bonds is going to be remembered by future generations for much more than numbers! These stories have been chronicled since the beginning--now-a-days, with the media, internet, and bloggers, they are chronicled even more. Maybe Galarraga won't come up every time someone looks for a list of names behind who pitched a perfect game, but he has a story that will go down in baseball folklore: how the umpire miscalled the last out; how Galarraga was stunned, but remained so classy; how the umpire confronted him in tears the next day. People will be telling this story, and it will be longer than a stat in a book.

    I just like the imperfections of the game. It makes it more human. That's why I love baseball so much.

  8. You present a good case, I love debating these topics so thanks for commenting. I love baseball too and I really enjoy hearing the varying opinions out there. Obviously I don't agree with all of them but hey, if someone presents a good case like you have, I'm all for listening/reading, and, of course, debating.