Jeff Passan over at Yahoo! Sports is beating the drum for expanded instant replay in baseball. And, for the sake of the game, I hope he doesn't get it.
No one likes bad calls, Jeff, but they are a part of the game. But, the very structure of baseball makes it a very poor candidate for instant replay. There are few natural breaks in a baseball game. Football, on the other hand, is tailor-made for instant replay. In college football an extra official sits in the press box and reviews each and every play and notifies the officials on the field if a replay needs a closer look.
Every umpire misses a bang-bang play at a base during the course of a game. It's inevitable. In those instances he almost has to make up his mind before the play is even completed whether he's calling the runner out or safe. It just so happens that sometimes plays don't end up quite the way the man in blue anticipated.
Should replay be utilized to make certain those calls were correct? It's probably not a bad idea. There aren't that many of those plays during the course of a regular game and the disruption to the flow of play shouldn't be too bad.
But where are we going to draw the line? Right now the line is drawn to determining whether a hit was a home run or not. But those, too, are rare controversies. The biggest area of concern is what happens behind the plate. Calling balls and strikes has much more impact on the game than any other call an umpire makes. That umpire crouching behind the catcher has the ability to make the strike zone bigger or smaller from day-to-day. Just how much of the outside corner is he going to give? What about those pitches that come in belt-high? Is the zone going to extend to the top of the knee or the bottom?
Just how would Mr. Passan propose we handle the calling of pitches? Who would make that decision? From what angle would they make it? Would every pitch be subject to review or just those calls the managers didn't like? Who would make the ultimate call - an umpire in the press box, an umpire in New York or the crew on the field?
And just how much more time would this add on to games that are already taking far too long to play. The problem isn't pitchers taking their own sweet time between pitches. It isn't batters stepping out of the batter's box between every pitch. It isn't managers overmanaging their pitching staffs. Nope, the problem is the number of commercials that air between innings and during pitching changes.
In order to justify the ever-escalating cost of airing major league baseball, cable and broadcast networks are trying to put more and more commercials into their telecasts. As a result, games are lasting longer and longer with no end in sight. Expanding the use of instant replay will only make the situation worse.
Mr. Passan points to two incidents that occurred last week as justifications to expand the use of instant replay - a disputed home run and the ignoring of a rule.
The Oakland A's lost a game last week because the umpires ruled a home run to be but a double off the top of the wall. The replay clearly showed that the ball went over the wall and that the game should have been knotted up. However, after blowing the call the first time, the crew watched the replays and proceeded to uphold their decision. So much for instant replay getting it right.
In the second incident, umpires allowed the Houston Astros to make a pitching change before the pitcher on the mound had even faced a batter. Oops. The rules state that a pitcher must pitch to at least one batter before he can be taken out of the game. Ultimately it made no difference because, the Astros being the Astros, Houston lost the game. In that instance there was nothing expanded instant replay could do - the problem was an umpire who didn't know the rules.
I love baseball but it's gotten to the point where it's next to impossible for me to sit down and watch a game on TV because of how much time it takes to watch. I'm much happier sitting in the stands soaking up the atmosphere and eating sunflower seeds.
Expanded instant replay is the last thing baseball needs. We need to be looking at ways to shorten games, not lengthen them. Besides, unless you replace the home plate umpire with a high-speed camera and a computer, you are only addressing superficial issues. There is no way to make replay work in the context of baseball and it's time we stop trying.
There have always been bad calls in baseball and I'm fairly certain there always will be. But, over the course of a game, a series or the season, the bad calls tend to even themselves out. Let's not make baseball even more unwatchable by expanding instant replay.