Today’s Baseball: Instant Replay

By Rory Graf-Brennen

The West Coast Conference will be bringing instant replay into the WCC tournament playoffs this spring, but not nearly as much instant replay as the MLB has coming next season.

In the WCC playoffs, instant replay will only be used for certain plays, like looking at whether a ball called foul was actually fair, or whether not a homerun was truly a round-tripper. But instant replay in the WCC won’t be used to review all foul balls, or other plays, such as force or tag outs on the bases, checked swings, or balls and strikes.

The current MLB replay system rules allow review of whether a called homerun was fair or foul, whether a ball left the field of play, and whether there is spectator interference. The new MLB instant replay rules for this coming season in 2014 are much different. The new replay review system will include foul-fair calls on the lines and whether a ball was caught or trapped. It will cover most plays, including, “”Tag plays, out/safe at first, fair/foul past the bags.” Only a few plays won’t be reviewable – foul tips, balls and strikes, and checked swings. If a manager wants to challenge a call he must notify the ump before the next pitch is thrown. A manager cannot call for review after arguing the play. The video review will be conducted at MLB headquarters in New York, most likely by former umps, and will be relayed back by via headset. Each manager will have a max of two challenges per game, but if a manger runs out of challenges, an umpire can call for a review on his own if he thinks it necessary.

I just watched an interview with seven Hall of Famers, two managers (Earl Weaver, Tommy Lasorda), four players (Tony Gwynn, Al kaline, Harmon Killabrew, former Sen. Jim Bunning), and a former MLB umpire, Doug Harvey, about bringing an expanded replay system into the pros. Half of them said they want the old style to stay, with no instant reply, because baseball is a game of failure and error, and that is one of the things that makes it baseball. As Doug Harvey put it, instant replay will be “taking all the humanity out of the game. Why don’t we just get robots and let them play the game?” The other half of the panel said it doesn’t seem like a bad idea because it will improve the accuracy of the game and take some of the pressure off the umpires. Tony Gwenn says, “It helps the game and helps the fans, and helps both teams, because the overall objective is to get the call right in the end. But Al kaline said it should “only be used in the playoffs…because no one wants to go home [at the end of the season] on a bad call.”

I am in the middle on instant replay. I’m sort of with Doug Harvey, who strongly disagrees, because I’ve grown up watching and playing baseball without a replay system and that is what I know. Without replay review, the umps have to be more focused on close calls because they only have one shot at it. If they make a mistake it is part of the game and makes it fun to watch, precisely because baseball has been a sport without instant replay. All those human made calls, with their occasional errors, links us to the past. In baseball we haven’t changed the old ways of the game in order to catch up with football and basketball. Now, watching MLB baseball games with a replay system in place, I will still love watching it just as much, but I think some umps will seem less focused during games because there will be less pressure on them to make, and sell, that close call, because they can always go “under the hood” and review it on replay. It feels more intense and exciting when they just get one shot to make the call and commit to it wholeheartedly. On the other hand, I also agree with the side that is for replay, because it will make calls more accurate. In truth, I admit that less pressure will probably make the umpires more accurate in general too. And, in the end it is hard to argue with the side that says the objective has to be to get the call right in the end. Besides, if I miss the human element, there will always be balls and strikes for the umpires and players to get excited about. And I will never agree that machines calling balls and strikes is a good thing – but that is a fight for another day.