Instant Replay and Baseball Umpires

Last week's controversial blown call by veteran umpire Jim Joyce that cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game fueled a nationwide debate about whether it is time to implement broad instant replay in Major League Baseball.  Both Joyce and Galarraga handled the unfortunate incident with class.  Although it is too late to "reverse the call" or fix the wrong, the "perfect game that wasn't" will live on in the lore of baseball history and might serve as the rallying cry to find a full instant replay system that works for the National Pastime, increasing the odds that such a mistake does not happen again.

Some people (both fans and pros) are demanding the immediate adoption of instant replay beyond its current limited role for homerun calls, which was recently implemented and has proven to be successful so far.  Some traditionalists bemoan any further tampering with the rules of the game and argue that while the human factor is prone for error, it is part of the charm of the sport. 

I see both sides of the argument.  I have written about some of my ideas for change in baseball, and the more I talk to fellow fans, the more I read the pros and cons of the issue, the more I continue to think about it, the stronger I feel that broad instant replay is long overdue for baseball.

I think most ideas for implementing instant replay are over-complicated.  I support a simple system in which a "replay umpire" is added to the game.  In addition to the umpires on the field, I propose, like some others do, that a new umpire be added who will be "in the booth" watching the video of the game and making the judgment calls that the umpires on the field cannot make or correcting any erroneous calls.  All umpires on the field and in the booth can communicate via earpieces or the homeplate umpire could have a microphone in his face-mask coordinating any back-and-forth discussions. 

I do not see why this idea would be as complicated as some people fear.  If the "booth umpire" witnesses a blown call, he can communicate it immediately to the "field umpires" who can then reverse it right away. If players, managers, or field umpires question a play, they just have to ask the booth umpire.

Instant replay would not replace human beings, it would just be a tool, like eyeglasses, that aid umpires in their officiating duties. 

Done the right way, instant replay would not significantly lengthen baseball games.  (And if they want to make ballgames shorter, I see no problem with adding a "pitch clock" that would give pitchers a set time to throw the ball to the plate when no one is on base, but that's a discussion for another day.)

A broader instant replay system would not open Pandora's box and ruin the integrity of baseball -- I don't anticipate seeing computer chips and laser beams replacing umpires in calling balls and strikes (even though umpires' ever shifting strikezone continues to frustrate me) or sensor devices on bases replacing umps in calling runners safe or out.  Having an umpire in the booth monitoring the video footage can resolve a lot of close calls as situations arise.

It's not a perfect solution, but I think it would solve over 99 per cent of the problem.

Comments