By Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
The Twins made a small amount of history on Monday when the first use of MLB’s “expanded” replay occurred at Hammond Stadium in Fort Meyers, Fla.
It was so nice, they used it twice. Cliches aside, the use of instant replay has been a hot topic amongst baseball pundits and fans.
Old School folks want keep the “human element” as a part of the game. They worry that the use of technology will slow down a game which is already played at a leisurely pace. They claim that over a 162-game season, a blown call here or there won’t significantly impact which teams make it to the post-season and which teams don’t.
New school fans see technology not as a threat to the game, but as a refinement of it. They think that the overriding principle should be to get as many calls right as technological advancements will allow. They say that in an era where statistical analysis has revolutionized the way that teams are constructed and run, it’s only natural that the same kind of precision should be used in officiating the game on the field.
Whether you’re for the use of instant replay in baseball, or against it, the reality is it’s here and it’s not going away any time soon.
Moreover, the most likely outcome is that replay in baseball will work just fine. But why?
First of all, history says it will. Every other major professional and collegiate sport in the country has adopted some form of instant replay usage. And while there have been tweaks and refinements along the way, each of those sports has managed to find a system that works fairly well.
Those sports all realized that with HD TV’s and multiple camera angles, fans actually had better access to information than their own officials did. A fact they quickly moved to rectify, because fans don’t want to see outcomes decided by officiating mistakes. They want to see them decided by the best athletes in the world.
Baseball has always been slower to change than other sports. And while that’s an endearing quality to many of us – a strong connection to our past is a powerful thing which shouldn’t be altered on a whim – it can be frustrating as well. The past few post-seasons have been a case in point. Too many times, calls were missed. Not because umpires were incompetent, but because the game moves in quick bursts and the umpires didn’t have the necessary tools to get the calls right.
That’s going to change starting this season. Which leads us to the second reason replay will likely work: Because fans at the ballpark will actually be more engaged.
This seems counter-intuitive to people who believe that baseball’s slower pace is an anathema to the shorter attention spans of younger generations, but it’s actually not.
Heretofore, close calls at baseball games weren’t replayed for fans at the ballpark, ostensibly out of concern for the umpires. (Okay, maybe that was mostly for umpires working in Philly, but the rule remained in all cities.)
Folks at home were free to yell at their TV sets as a blown call was replayed 10 times and lamented by broadcasters. But fans in the ballpark were left texting their friends who were watching at home or frantically checking Twitter to find out if the call was actually right or wrong.
That’s no longer the case. Now replays will be available on the big screens or on whatever devices fans have with them. Baseball understands that replay actually creates drama. The fans will have their take on the play and be on the edge of their seat wondering if the umpires will agree or not.
But most importantly, replay will work because the people who run the game of baseball are committed to making it work.
Yes, there’s a question about whether “managers challenges” will be abused. Perhaps some skippers will see a replay challenge not as a way to overturn a bad call, but as an opportunity to give a relief pitcher more time to warm up and get in the game.
But as was mentioned earlier, tweaks are always made as replay is instituted within a game. If that abuse is a problem, then the system will be altered to fix it. Maybe bullpens will be shut down while a replay is in effect. Or perhaps “managers’ challenges” will be abandoned, and umpires will have total control over when a play is reviewed.
Yes, there are concerns about the amount of time necessary to contact replay umpires in New York, have them review the play and make a determination, and then communicate that back to the folks at whatever game site had the play in question.
But in Monday’s game, both reviews took around three minutes, which certainly isn’t any longer than the “manager meltdowns,” which were so often seen over blown calls. And as managers and umpires become better acquainted with the use of replay, the process will move even more quickly and efficiently.
The point is, no replay system in sports has been as closely analyzed, scrutinized and debated as baseball’s system. But if the current format needs refinement, baseball will respond and make adjustments as they prove to be necessary. And ultimately the time has come to get the calls right, so that the beauty of our national pastime isn’t spoiled by mistakes from the men in blue.