Baseball To Toss Tradition, Allow Replays

Source: Replays are for wimps.
There is a lawyer in each of us struggling to claw its way out and sue. Yet most of us—because we learnt to heed our mothers and are kind to animals and children, and because we imbibe freely the consolations of philosophy and lead a balanced, moral life—restrain these dark impulses.

Others—giving themselves over to the demons of Anger, Envy, and Greed, and who hold the detestable belief that perfection can be had in this Earthly life—fail. It is these intemperate fellows responsible for besieging mankind with awful Utopian schemes, like car alarms, back-up warning beepers, NPR, and “instant” replay in sports.

Instant my foot. Why, it’s very name is a lie. As is the belief that by instituting this vile scheme finally—finally!—the sport will have reached its ideal.

What is the biggest complaint you hear about baseball? Boring? Slow? Too long? The Powers That Be have discovered a way to boost these lamentations and drive away even more potential viewers. In other sports it takes minutes for each scan of the video, minutes which grow longer and more frequent every year. Why should baseball be different?

The kicker is that the most ardent admirers of Technology as Salvation forget about false complaints. How often does a peeved coach petition the referees for a review only to discover his petition is groundless and that the referees were right after all? Often. And how often is the reply ambiguous? Often. Are we now to be treated to the absurd spectacle of Billy-Martin-type managers kicking dirt onto the screens of “instant” replay machines?

The example on everybody’s mind is Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga, who had been throwing a perfect game—a true rarity in the game—until, in the ninth inning in nearly the last play of the game, umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first and called a man safe who was so obviously out that even my Grandmother could see it, and she has been gone these ten years.

Outrageous! Calumny! Pandemonium! Tears of rage! Tears of remorse! Tears galore! Sickening. Ty Cobb would have charged the field with a bat and beat, not the umpire, but the whiners on the diamond and in the stadium. (Incidentally, unlike fans and sports writers, Galarraga took it like a man and laughed it off on the mound.)

Maybe you’re still concerned about Galarraga, but that means you don’t see it. That you can’t guess from the clues. We are still talking about it! If Joyce hadn’t been concentrating on trying to clear the baseline with a stream of spittle and had made the right call, then what? Well, Galarraga, who is already on his way out (Rockies’ AAA affiliate the Sky Sox), would soon be sitting on a barstool in some back-alley bar in Caracas trying to tell the poor sot next to him how he had once thrown a perfect game. Yawn.

But now he has a story worth retelling. “I had a perfect game,” he probably starts. “But for an inept umpire.” His listeners move closer. “It was the top of the ninth…”

And we each of us have the same story! Tell me, average baseball fan, the names and teams of all the other pitchers who have had perfect games. A few stats geeks have this ferreted away in their little grey cells, but most don’t. But everybody knows the story of Galarraga the Unlucky, Galarraga the Betrayed. Galarraga the man who has at least this one great thing he can carry with him for the rest of his life.

Right now the scheme is to allow reviews for everything but balls and strikes. That’s right now. But the impatience of Utopians is legendary and it won’t be long before there are ear-splitting calls for devices to replace umpires. Think not? Then read this:

Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said the expanded replay might not go far enough. Johnson told reporters in Washington that the league ought to consider an “electronic strike zone” to monitor calls of balls and strikes.

Yes, change the game irrevocably. Make comparisons between now and the past impossible. Forget that the game is a human event and imperfect and it is the imperfections that make it vivid and worth following. But why stop at replacing umpires with machines? Replace the players, too! Heck, simulate the whole thing on a computer and run the “season” flawlessly in a snap and report the results to whatever fans are left.

Sigh. All we have left to us is soccer, the only sport which still (mostly) holds out.


  1. Person of Choler

    Speaking of near perfect games, anyone remember Harvey Haddix? 12 innings of perfect pitching, batter gets first on a fielding error, and Haddix goes on to lose the game.

  2. Gary

    Just wait ’til the replay machines discover PEDs.

    Btw, at least soccer has a clock so you know, more or less, when the boredom will end.

    Btbtw, what’s the probability that the “more” time past 90 minutes will be exactly 3 minutes?

  3. Joseph R.

    I like your perspective. It has typically bothered me that, while at a particular baseball game, the “instant replay” on a close call wasn’t shown to us in the attending audience. In retrospect maybe this is for the better enjoyment of the sporting event. I now wonder how I would react if the TV broadcasts had never introduced this concept in the first place. I think the growth of camera technology has truly created an irrevocable paradigm shift to the general misfortune of sports and athletes. I hesitate to say this in case someone takes this idea seriously, but given the slippery slope to which you refer, Davey Johnson is correct: the first ump to go will be the home-plate umpire. The technology already exists to convert every home plate into a strike zone sensor.

    Perhaps the best compromise is a single replay flag for each manager, and they can use it on a single called strike if they choose.

  4. JohnK

    I’m interested in whether either baseball owners or the Players’ Association did anything to determine precisely how this move would benefit them, in actual increased revenue, or at least in something practical.

    What was the predictive model deployed? How good is it?

    Or did all these high-powered businessmen, and the Players’ Association’s high-powered lawyers, just ‘feel’ like it would be a good idea?

    TV makes ‘instant’ reply possible, and TV is going to show the replay on TV (but not in the stands when you’re actually there), so therefore …?

    Also, why didn’t baseball instead change the model by which it hires and fires umpires? Get better umps by increasing the competition for major league jobs, and paying the minor league umps more so there’s more quality in the ‘ump farm system’?

    Why not enforce the speed-up rules already in place, or limit time between pitches to 10 seconds, or allow only a certain total number of times per 9 innings that a team’s batters can leave the batter’s box?

    These would speed things up, and you could make the case that speeding things up would be much more like traditional baseball, plus easier to watch.

    Matt asks: but what does ‘instant’ replay do for the game? I ask: Cui bono? Who does this benefit? How? Is there some cabal inside of the business of baseball that will make more money from this? Maybe gamblers?

    Did anybody even really ask the question of how this benefits anybody in baseball, or even interested in baseball? Or did TV ‘ask’, and that’s it? So cui bono == TV?

    I don’t get it.

  5. Scotian

    I fear for your sanity, Briggs. 🙂

    Random thoughts:
    I’m not much of a sports fan and so any opinion that I might offer is suspect, but a ten second interval seems unworkable to me. The game duration problem is driven entirely by television viewers as it is not an inherent problem. Compare to cricket – now there’s a boring game. Baseball was invented to speed things up. However, if duration is such an annoyance switch to softball (fastball) with seven innings. The electronic calling of strikes will be complicated by the fact that the strike zone depends on the height of the batter. The use of the instant replay on televised games makes its adoption by umpires inevitable, but I think that the final call should still rest with the umpire, after viewing the replay when necessary. It is amazing that baseball has held out this long. A technological audience wants technological entertainment. I have never understood the international appeal of soccer which brings a new high in boredom, even to play, especially to play. We played many games as kids in my neighorhood but never soccer, although there were school teams – cheaper I guess. I tried watching the World Cup a couple of years ago, which shows how desperate I was for something to do at the time, but the incessant blare of all those $&€£¥ horns was just too annoying. With such disrespect for the audience soccer will never gain in popularity in North America.

    There, I have annoyed enough people for now.

  6. John M

    Who needs replay?

    Don’t you believe them when 97% of the umps say they’re right?

  7. MattS

    John M,

    “Don’t you believe them when 97% of the umps say they’re right?”

    I believed them when they all resigned in mass after the league insisted that they enforce the rules as written in the official rule book.

    The umps response to the league accepting their resignations: “But we didn’t really mean it!”

  8. There’s already instant replay review in baseball and has been since 2008. Reviews of whether putative home runs are fair or foul and whether there was fan interference have been in effect for five years.

  9. Jim DeCamp

    Nice observation about Galarraga. Puts me in mind of Yogi Berra’s observation about Jackie Robinson’s steal of home in the 1955 World Series. At the time and for years, Berra protested that Robinson was out. But in his later years, Yogi mellowed and embraced Briggsianism. He now maintains that he is at least as much remembered for a bad call as his own inimitable mode of expression. (I cannot readily find the quote on line, and scruple at even attempting to do Yogi justice.)

    This instance is another confirmation of Brigg’s Baseball Axiom. If instant replay were available in 1955, baseball would have been robbed of one of its most iconic images.

  10. Go Whitecaps!!!

    You have a choice of wasting a minute or three with replays or 10 to 15 minutes watching the coach argue with the Ump.

  11. Andrew Kennett

    You think baseball has replay problems — don’t get a cricket fan started on the DRS (Decision Referal System)

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