As a conservative, a traditionalist, and a baseball fan for 55 years, I can say that I hate instant replay. I used to hate the designated hitter but eventually, grudgingly, accepted it so chances are pretty good about 30 years from now, I’ll get used to the game being taken out of the hands of flawed, mistake-prone umpires and placed in the hands of technology.
I always saw mistakes made by the umps as simply the “rub-o-the-green” — thems the breaks, boys and over 162 games, the bad calls tend to even themselves out. But the powers that be in baseball didn’t quite see it like that, so they built a huge “war room” in New York — the Replay Operations Center — with dozens of TV feeds for league officials to view a play and make the right call.
I am probably a little more gleeful than I should be when I report that the plot to destroy baseball via replay is not going according to plan. In fact, at this rate, the fans will be screaming for the wires to be ripped out of the ROC and by mid-season, the league go back to relying on human beings to make the right call.
I can tolerate the growing pains of expanded replay, the flaws in the challenge system, the awkward delays as managers decide whether to seek reviews, the debates over what constitutes a proper transfer, a proper catch.
But no one should tolerate calls that are blatantly incorrect after review — not now, not with a system that supposedly was designed to help baseball avoid egregious mistakes.
Something is terribly wrong when television viewers are getting better access to conclusive angles than the umpires at the $30 million Replay Operations Center in New York. And it happened twice Saturday, first in a game between the Yankees and Red Sox, then in one between the Braves and Nationals.
If it’s any consolation to Red Sox manager John Farrell, I spent Sunday trying to get a better explanation for Anna-gate from Major League Baseball, and none was forthcoming.
Farrell became the first manager to receive an automatic ejection for arguing a replay decision later that night, contending that the out call on the Yankees’ Francisco Cervelli at first base should not have been overturned because the replays were inconclusive.
The essence of Farrell’s argument is that the ball needed simply to enter first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove, not hit the back of it. The confusion alone over what qualifies as an out is embarrassing to baseball, but Farrell would not have been nearly as hot if not for the shenanigans of the day before.
Clearly, Farrell was still seething over the missed call Saturday — the one in which replay conclusively showed the Yankees’ Dean Anna had his foot off second base when he was tagged by Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts with one out in the eighth inning.
At least, the replay on FOX Sports 1 and other networks broadcasting the game conclusively showed that. No one is quite sure what the umpires at the Replay Operations Center were quite watching, but evidently their 12 feeds were not good enough.
The promise of this expanded replay was that it would be quick (90 seconds or less), and the calls would finally be correct. But, like football replay which came in making the same promises, the reality is quite different. What we found with replays in football was that even multiple angles and several minutes of examining tape, there were many inconclusive outcomes. The standard of “incontrovertible proof” necessary to overturn a call is, after all, arbitrary, and you end up adding a human element anyway.
For Major League Baseball, television replays have, far more than not, validated umpire calls over the years. The tiny percentage of blown calls in baseball simply wasn’t worth altering the game so drastically. Of all the professional sports, baseball umpires — who have been full time employees of the league for decades — were far and away the best officials in the world. Soccer refs? A joke. Football and hockey refs? Helpless in the face of a game that moves too fast and has too much action involving too many players for them to do a decent job.
But baseball — far more sedate, with the action very concentrated, and four umpires covering all the angles — has far fewer instances of blown calls costing a game. Distance appears to play a far bigger role in baseball than other sports. Fair or foul balls, and home runs — these calls are missed more regularly because the umpire is so far from the spot.
The missed calls this past weekend only seem to illustrate the fact that no system is perfect and replay in baseball only appears to complicate calls unnecessarily. Like Obamacare, now matter how flawed it is, they’re going to keep it.
We the fans, don’t have to like it.