MLB: Just add instant replay already

June 3, 2010

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So, last night, Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers threw a perfect game. Except it wasn't a perfect game, because with two outs in the bottom of the ninth — you couldn't write fiction this implausible — first-base umpire Jim Joyce blew the call. And Joyce admitted after the game that he blew the call. So what should have been the 21st perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball is instead the most infamous one-hitter in the history of Major League Baseball.

Wow. Just, wow.

Today, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said he wouldn't reverse the blown call because, apparently, that would open up a can of worms that would bring the sport of Major League Baseball to a grinding halt. Or something.

I don't know what kind of precedent going in and overturning a blown call like this would do to the commissioner's office. It might open some kind of floodgate; fair enough. But it's time — far past time — to just bring instant replay into the MLB in a real way. I mean, come on already.

For whatever reason, it seems instant replay has always been anathema to the league. I personally don't understand it at all. You can come up with a replay system that makes sense without compromising the Untarnished Reverence of the Game of Baseball. And, yes, please read thick sarcasm into that description.

Personally, I find the arguments against instant replay absurd. Let's take a look at them.

1. It will slow down the game.

Slow it down? Seriously? It's fucking baseball, for Chrissakes. If that's your argument, just concede right now. What's another three minutes to a 180-minute game?

There are any number of ways you can legislate a replay system to make it go quickly. Limit the number of replays per game per team. Institute some sort of deterrent for frivolous challenges. (Seriously, how many plays in a baseball game are really that obviously wrong as to require a challenge to a call?)

Frankly, I don't see what's so wrong with the NFL's challenge system. Limit the challenges, attach some rules to the situations where they can be used, and put the burden of proof on the challenger, such that the replay has to overrule the call on the field conclusively. What's so hard about that?

2. Baseball is a human game played by humans. Humans make mistakes, and we don't want to take the human element out of the game.

Adding instant replay to baseball will not take the human element out of the game. You need to explain to me how fixing a mistake is somehow removing the human decision-making process. It's still a game played by humans and called by humans. I would not, for example, support a replay system when it comes to calling balls and strikes. That's a judgment call by the home-plate umpire. Always has been, always will be, and should be.

But plays at any of the bases or at the plate that are clearly wrong, or catches that are clearly not catches should have a chance at being corrected.

Major League Baseball is a high-stakes, high-money game. The fans want the correct call. I don't see how that takes away the human element.

3. It would compromise the integrity of the game.

If by "integrity" you mean "preserving pointless mistakes that could be corrected with clear-cut evidence," then okay, sure.

What's the point of having plays that are obviously wrong stay wrong instead of being corrected? Because it's tradition? The way we've always done it? Because umpires are revered and infallible? Except that they're clearly not?

Please. The technology is there. USE IT.

I would think integrity would mean getting it right, not insisting that we cling to old-fashioned tradition for whatever reason, even if it means keeping a wrong decision wrong and in this extreme case, denying a perfect game to a pitcher.

I would think that the umpires would welcome a situation where their botched calls could be corrected. Granted, Joyce's call last night is about as extreme a case as we're likely to get. But don't you think he'd welcome the opportunity to have instant replay wipe the call off the books and fix it if that were an option?

A couple years ago, after a number of blown calls, MLB instituted instant replay in the case of incorrectly ruled home runs. Talk about an underwhelming and under-reaching rule change. And, boy, the league sure made a big deal about it. But let's be real; it was a joke — a bone thrown to make the pro-replay people shut up.

Stop being wimps, MLB. Step up and figure out a way to correct incorrect calls instead of burying your heads in the sand and ignoring this issue year after year.

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8 comments on this post

    Agree 100%. The Galarraga incident seems like a worst case scenario and is a perfect example of a case where instant replay would make things right. The infrastructure is already there, and it seems silly to ignore/avoid it.

    "Today, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said he wouldn't reverse the blown call because, apparently, that would open up a can of worms that would bring the sport of Major League Baseball to a grinding halt. Or something. "

    What a crock of fookin shite! This from the same guy who ended an All-Star game in a tie.

    I think it would have been ridiculous for Selig to overturn the call. Bad calls have changed the outcome of games, including playoff games. Why should video review be used 24 hours after the fact in this case when it wasn't used in any of the others? It would have been a knee-jerk reaction that would have created an undesirable precedent for future controversial games.

    I agree 100% that instituting an instant replay policy needs to happen. I'm tired of seeing incorrect calls, not to mention the resulting shouting matches with umpires.

    After reading your blog entry, I started looking at CNN/SI for coverage.

    I came across this blog, by Joe Posnanski:

    Here is sentence or two, where he discusses the effect that a blown call had on another umpire:

    "Of course, as a baseball fan, I will never forget Joyce’s blown call — just as baseball fans will never forget Don Denkinger’s missed call during the 1985 World Series. I have spoken at length with Don about that missed call — sat with him at his home in Arizona and listened to him relive the pain of being wrong, the fury of people who called his home and threatened him, the sadness of having a long and successful baseball career defined by one mistake made in the heat of the moment when America was watching. “The call,” he told me, “never quite goes away.” So it goes for Jim Joyce and a safe call that should have been out."

    It sounds horrible. Joyce knew he made a mistake. He apologized to Galarraga (which was apparently a scene of the utmost respect and politeness - kudos to them both). But even though everyone knows it was the wrong call, it can't be undone...? There isn't a review process? And now Joyce will undoubtedly get threats and feel terrible for what's happened, all because he made a mistake? I don't watch baseball--or any sports at all, in fact--but I have a hard time wrapping my head around this.

    The baseball "purists" who are against the addition of some form of instant reply (that would allow for correction, for example, of obviously wrong calls on whether a ball was caught, or whether a runner is out or sage) go on about the "integrity" of the game, but they are deluding themselves.

    The "integrity" of the game has already been compromised by a decades-long steroid scandal (with respect to which baseball has taken some measure of corective action) In 1988, the rules on balks were changed such that it was much easier for a balk to be called (the rules were changed back to what they had been, by the next season). In 2002, another rule was changed when the All-Star Game for that year ended in a tie. Commissioner Selig decided virtually on the spot that summer that from now on, an incentive would be given to the team who won the All-Star game: the League that won the game would get home field advantage in the World Series (talk about an irrational solution to a non-problem). And yes, as you noted, we now have instant replay for home run calls.

    In each instance, a rule has been changed (or changed back). Some of the changes are for the better, some are for the worse, some have not measurably affected the game. But the fact these changes had to be instituted shows that baseball is not a brand-new pristine sport never touched by scandal, controversy or confusion. In short, it is not, pardon the phrase, a perfect game. Its integrity is only as good as the integrity of those who play the game and make the calls, and all of these people are just human.

    Also, being that we are just human, we gradually accept change - sometimes graciously, sometimes resentfully, sometimes in passing. But life goes on. The American League uses a Designated Hitter. Baseball survived. Home runs are now reviewed. The game has survived. Every change thought to bring about the world has simply brought... another tomorrow, another game. Life goes on.

    This particular call should not be reversed (if it were, though, again, the universe would not cease to exist; in the Olympics, there are precedents for literally going back in time and changing the results - such as in the 2002 Winter Games Figure Skating Pairs competition - no "rule" there explicitly allowed for the awarding of a tie, but none prohibited it - just as is the case with the facts of this perfect game).

    Who, exactly, would be harmed by the introduction of instant replay? Would it slow down a game? Sure, but anyone who has watched a Yankees-Red Sox game recently knows that games are already much longer than they used to be, what with additional commercials, pitchers taking more time between pitchers. If extending the length of a game is a problem, find a way to speed it up, for example, by only allowing a pitcher to throw back to first to prevent a runner from stealing so many times per at-bat, or by limiting the number of time-outs a pitcher or batter can ask for. Big deal. "Integrity" (which I define as making sure the players on both teams are subject to the same rules, of which they have awareness, and which are fair and applied consistently) will not be compromised.

    As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said, "a page of history is worth a volume of logic." Baseball already "despoiled its northern woods," so to speak, by allowing for replay in select instances a few years ago. Naturally, as noted above the world did not come to an end. It will not with the use of instant replay either. If anything, allowing the use of instant replay might reduce the number of brawls (which, by the way, slow down the length of a game) and might even serve as a learning tool to make umpires more concscientious. Isn't that a goal we can all agree is worthwhile?

    To sum up, quoting Homles again, "It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, or the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past."

    I'm not a baseball fan, but I have to agree. Yes, carefully think through how you want to implement it, but it is well past time for instant reply to be a part of baseball. It is frustrating for players, fans and referees to have a critical wrong call not have anyway to be corrected. And I had to snicker at point #1 as this argument has some validity in about every other sport :)

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