Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Coming soon to MLB: Instant Replay

With one round of the 2009 MLB playoffs in the books, baseball's instant replay debate is once again being, um, replayed -- this time with new evidence a la the League Division Series. With bungled calls in several series, most notably the fair ball called foul in the Yankees-Twins ALDS, look out as critics will begin the cries for more use of replay technology while purists defend the use of umpires who "get it right more often than not."

A year ago I said that implementing instant replay for home runs would lead Major League Baseball down the slippery slope of letting instant replay decide most of if not all of a very objective game. Because of the baseball's objective nature compared to particular calls in football or basketball (calling holding or block fouls is much more subjective than safe or out), it's much easier to instant replay to overtake the game, which I must say may not be the worst thing.

"I realize a home run is more important than a regular old play because it means point are either on or off the scoreboard. But where does it stop?

Home runs are okay to replay. But not a play at the plate, which might be more difficult to call despite an umpires close proximity to the play. I don't like the concept of limited instant replay. That's how things started in the NFL, and the league seems to expand replay every year to include more and more rules that were either overlooked or deemed not important enough when the NFL originally added replay.

...

If MLB is going to use instant replay, they shouldn't decide to do it just for HRs. Might as well implement it everywhere and get the whole thing over with.

That's what I wrote over a year ago, and now it's time for us all to get ready as baseball could very realistically be adding new elements to it's replay abilities by as soon as next season. I don't think this will get as advanced as the NFL where managers are throwing challenge flags and instead of losing timeouts, the teams have to make extra outs or something.

But what if the MLB used tennis's Hawk-Eye replay system (in use since 2006) to rule fair and foul balls in relation to where they bounce down the foul lines. It takes tennis less than 10 seconds, and it's accuracy is virtually unsurpassable. That could easily be implemented, and calls like the one from the Yankees-Twins series would not longer be in doubt.

Let's get an official in the booth who can quickly assess if the ball beats the runner to the bag on routine force outs. Or perhaps make it extremely centralized a la the NHL, and have the MLB headquarters directly review any plays in question. After all, while a home run directly reflects points on the scoreboard and thus clearly can affect a final score, what about a runner called out at first base who might have come around to score after subsequent hits later in the inning?

Don't argue about the sanctity of the game being ruined by the addition of technology. The "sanctity" of the game is in doubt so long as umpires are blowing these calls. Replay doesn't worsen the game's reputation.

The flood gates are open with home runs, so it's only a matter of time before everything else flows through.

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