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Baseball’s New Instant Replay Policy Has its Pros and Cons

Last month, after years of defending the “human element,” the 30 clubs of Major League Baseball joined the 21st century and unanimously approved the expansion of instant replay, which will be in effect for the 2014 regular season and playoffs. MLB_Umpires_1

Under these new rules, an über umpire in New York City will play God and review close calls from multiple angles and then transmit his ruling from on high.

Up until last season replay was limited to home runs and fan interference. This year they’re adding other plays—now almost every call can be contested, with the exception of balls and strikes and checked swings. They also won’t allow reviews of what is known as the “neighborhood play” at second base on potential double plays. Managers will also get one challenge per game. If they get it right, they get another.

The league will get a chance to test out the expansion during spring training. Teams will each have at least five games this spring where managers can challenge plays as part of the major expansion of instant replay. Spring Training will be the chance for MLB to work out the kinks, especially the issue of timing and submitting challenges in a timely manner.

The players seem to like it. But the idea of do-overs just seems wrong.

I’m kind of torn over the issue of instant replay expansion. I’m on the fence. There are aspects I agree with, and others, well, not so much. I guess I’m Switzerland when it comes to instant replay, and here’s why.

The most obvious argument, and most oft-made argument, against instant replay is that it will slow down a game that is already too slow. This is very much true. The average MLB game is around three hours, and we’re talking about a rather slow three hours.

And yes, all true baseball fans know the sport is slow-moving. The fact that most keep coming back through the course of a 162-game season (plus playoffs) signifies that fans don’t really care. Baseball fans like baseball no matter what. Always have, always will.

But still, one shudders to think how long a typical Red Sox vs. Yankees game would last if umps were to stop and review more than one replay.

And for the slim number of times a bad call will be overturned, is it actually worth it to slow down a slow game even further?

However, letting fans—and the players for the matter—see a disputed call is a major positive. When replays are hidden from fans at games, this brings scrutiny on the umpires and the league, which is contradictory to implementing these reviews in the first place. The expansion of instant replay is to ensure that the right calls are made and to allow people in the park to see what everyone at home is seeing, making it easier to move past a perceived bad call. I suppose that’s progress.

It’s all to ensure that every call is exactly right. But human error is part of life. Bad calls are a part of the game. Hence why I have mixed feelings about this.

Umps are going to get some calls right, and they’re going to get some wrong. Nobody’s perfect. While I am being a hypocrite, as I am one of the first to attack an ump with my vicious words through the TV after they make a “bad call,” that margin of error is part of the game.

The argument that bad calls are a part of the game is essentially an attempt to perpetuate the age-old tradition of umpires screwing up, thus screwing over one team and making themselves look bad in the process. Let’s face it, nobody wins when there are bad calls. Except the team that was lucky enough to benefit from the bad call, of course.

Yes, I would have loved instant replay in Game 3 of the World Series when the Red Sox fell victim to the controversial obstruction call. I’m all for instant replay when it reverses a travesty of justice against my Sox, but I’m not so crazy about it when it helps the other guys. For some annoying reason, baseball insists on being fair to both sides.

Fairness is something that baseball should be promoting. By accepting that bad calls are part of the game, baseball is shunning absolute fairness.

Still, I don’t like it.

Because, what’s next? Are they going to institute a rule to review the play every time players get all huffy about a called third strike?

How far can we go to make sure that every call is 100% the right call? How far can we go to erase any potential human error from influencing a game? Robo-umpires?

The NFL figured out a while ago that it’s worth it to slow down the game in order to make the right call, and the NBA and NHL quickly followed suit. So everyone knew it was just a matter of time before the MLB jumped on board.

The instant replay challenges have made NFL games into a series of courtroom sidebars. “The defendant’s helmet clearly struck the plaintiff’s helmet just above the shoulder pad as can clearly be seen in nine of the 36 angles that have been presented, your honor. 5-yard penalty.” Nothing against lawyers, but I don’t want to pay (at least) forty bucks and spend three hours of my day watching them work.

Instant replay has its limits. Every sports fan under the sun knows that instant replay does not eliminate controversy from the game (i.e. Tom Brady and the “Tuck Rule”). These video replays could create more problems instead of solving them. It’s a valiant effort to serve as the fairness police, but for me it falls short.

My head likes instant replay and the logic of it: making sure the right calls are made for the sake of fairness, etc. But my heart hates instant replay; it erases the true nature of baseball, and sports/life in general: the unpredictability.

Can we not re-litigate everything in life? Can we just accept the fact that mistakes and unfairness are just a part of life and move on? Because sometimes just moving on and not wallowing in our slights and offenses is the best thing to do.

There is no crying in baseball, but there’s a fair amount of standing around. And now there will be more.

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