It had to happen sooner or later – and it would have been better if it were later – but Major League Baseball announced plans to expand the use of instant replay in games starting in the 2014 season.
Tony La Russa, who was on the committee to work out the essence of this new ruling, is certainly a guy I respect and admire for his record and professionalism; however, he is advocating the plan as something that is meant to be for the “dramatic miss, not all misses.” While I believe his intentions are earnest, we know that once a door is opened with something like this that we are moving in a direction that will be unstoppable. It’s really a little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke kind of decision, and we all know the little guy can’t keep that fat little thumb in the hole forever.
Since its inception, instant reply has had an infamous reputation in MLB because it has called into question every play, not just the “dramatic” ones. We have come to a point now that I watch games and really do not appreciate how many times we have to see the same play over and over again. Not only is it tediously repetitious, but it also takes away from the momentum of the game I am trying to enjoy. Yes, announcers love pointing out how the umpire missed the call, but they aren’t on the field having to make a split second decision. I wouldn’t want to be in that guy’s shoes, but I am certainly appreciative that he is there doing the best job that he can.
The problem with the instant replay challenge as it stands is that the umpires on the field are not going to be reviewing the play. The fact that these replays will be reviewed in MLB Replay Command Center (in New York City) is mind boggling to say the least. How are all MLB games going on simultaneously going to be handled? It also feels eerily like something out of 1984 with Big Brother Bud watching over all. I am certain commissioner Selig sees this (along with his anti-drug policy) as his legacy, but I tend to think of it as something that will tarnish his tenure and ruin the essence of the game.
My way of thinking is this – baseball is meant to be a game of inches. That is how the game has always been played and should be played. The human factor has made baseball an exasperating but exciting game that is America’s pastime because it reflects the drama, conflict, and excitement that we have come to expect. The instant replay dilutes the formula, takes away the human factor, and moves us toward what I fear will eventually be a more robotic and less pure version of the game.
Old timers are scratching their heads now, but how long will it take for this practice to be expanded? My bet is that sooner of later every call will be reviewable, and that even the sacred balls and strikes will one day be called electronically. I cringe at the thought of a game one day being totally digitalized, with all calls being made by an infallible robotic presence.
I understand that there are many people in favor of the decision, including players, managers, and fans who feel they have been burned by umpires again and again. We think of the lost homeruns, the no-hitters missed by one strike, and the trapped balls that should have been singles. I get that; I really do. This NY Mets fan has seen many calls go against my team, especially a specific called third strike as Carlos Beltran held the bat on his shoulder, but I wouldn’t want to go back and have a robot change that call to a ball. Maybe I am crazy, but that is part of the game I sometimes hate to love.
Of course, we could go on and on, but umpires are professionals who are out there doing their best, who love the game as much as we do, and their presence while sometimes loathed is an integral part of the game. If we take away their role slowly, as we are doing, that will change the game we love forever (sort of like taking Darth Vader out of Star Wars).
I don’t know about you, but I am glad that got to see guys like “Sweet” Lou Pinella have a meltdown because of a bad call. We are moving towards the point where one day (maybe sooner than you think) that will never happen again. What a sad day for all baseball fans.
Photo credits: ny daily news, pinella-sports-kings.com