On Thursday, Major League Baseball and Bud Selig joined together to take a giant step forward for the game of baseball. Or maybe a step backwards, or maybe sideways or diagonally, depending on whom you ask. The funding for expansion of instant replay in baseball has been unanimously approved, causing cheers, groans, or confused mumbles to be emitted across the country by those who still follow baseball during the winter months.
To clarify, under the current MLB rules instant replay is only used in determining questionable home run calls – whether a ball is fair or foul, or whether it cleared a fence. While the first step in what is ultimately a two-step process has been approved (the funding), the second step (deciding what to implement) will occur in mid January when Major League Baseball meets again.
Speculation at this time points to what may be a large expansion. The idea is that replays will soon be available on every play in which the ball is put into play. Was that ball fair our foul? Was that fly ball trapped, or caught in the air? Who beat whom to the bag? Did Chad Durbin really hang another slider in the middle of the plate with guys on base? With the exception of that last one, these are the types of plays that will likely be reviewable sometime in the near future.
While MLB is the late adopter of instant replay, it is still met with controversy. Many believe that adding instant replay takes away the “human element” of the game. Many also yell very loudly and curse in front of their children when the umpires blow calls that go against their team.
Personally, I am all for the expansion. While I’ll admit it took a second to grow on me, I think replay would benefit the game immensely. The older generation is a large part of those professing the need for the human element. Many people who have grown up with the game would like to see it remain exactly how it has; they claim that human error makes baseball what it is. Longtime Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda firmly declared that he was “for the game of baseball as it is.” He went on to say “it’s been like that for years, and I think it should stay that way.” Hall of Fame right fielder Al Kaline said that he is okay with the expansion of replay, only if it is used exclusively in the playoffs.
It’s hard to argue baseball with Tommy Lasorda, lets get that out of the way. And I’ve already admitted that I was indeed on his side at the beginning of this debate. Bang-bang calls at first base are what make you jump out of your seat, swinging your arms to the side while yelling “SAFE!”, only to then follow it up with “oh c’mon” when the call doesn’t go your way. They’re what make the game as exciting as it can be. I have questioned whether going into a booth and delaying an already slow game to ensure the correct call was made would take that away. I still believe it very well may take that element away, to a degree. However, what replay will give back to the game is much much more.
How many times have you done exactly what I wrote above? How often have you jumped from your seat, making the call for an umpire in a pivotal moment for your favorite team? And how many of those times are the calls blown? How much would you have given for the umps to review that one play that cost your team a win? Sometimes they go against your team, as well, or against the sport as a whole.
Back in 2010, when Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga came within one out of a perfect game. As Indians batter Jason Donald stepped up to the plate, he was the one thing separating Galarraga from the 21st perfecto in Major League history. There was one other thing other than Donald separating Galarraga from the history books: a blown call. Donald hit a slow grounder to first where Miguel Cabrera fielded and flipped to Galarraga. How fitting it was, the pitcher who set down the first 26 straight got to step on the bag and record the 27th and final out himself. The flip to Galarraga, the tag of the base – a good two steps ahead of Donald – and there it was, he’s…safe? First base umpire Jim Joyce blew the call. Donald is safe, perfect game over, no hitter over, opportunity to have a relevant career over for Galarraga.
Just reading that above paragraph should detail why instant replay should be expanded in Major League Baseball. Joyce knew he blew the call, Galarraga knew he blew the call, Donald knew he blew the call, eve Stevie Wonder could have made an educated guess that would have likely ended up more accurate than the official call. But because there was no replay system, no challenge-flag type motion for managers to make, the game went on.
I do believe that the expansion should stop here. Balls and strikes should indeed remain off limits for replays, leaving the reviews to balls put into play. There should also, ideally, be a limit as to how often the calls will be reviewed. The league has bounced around potential challenge-flag-like ideas, similar to how football works.
Whatever is decided at the meetings in January will likely benefit the game of baseball greatly. Just don’t tell Bud Selig that that’s the case, we dont want to end up with every close call declared a tie.