Enough! Time for Major League Baseball to embrace comprehensive instant replay
|06.04.13 at 7:17 am ET|
Guest columnist Gabe Kapler spent parts of 12 years in the major leagues from 1998-2010, playing for the Tigers (1998-99), Rangers (2000-02), Rockies (2002-03), Red Sox (2003-06 – with a brief interlude in Japan), Brewers (2008) and Rays (2009-10). He also spent a year managing the Red Sox’ Single-A affiliate in Greenville. Follow him on twitter @gabekapler.
On May 31, Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez picked pinch runner Kyle Kendrick of the Phillies off of second base. Shortstop Jean Segura applied the tag and that was that.
Except it wasn’t. Segura actually dropped the ball and never applied the tag. Segura’s acting job was sound and deserves some credit. In umpire Mike Estabrook’s defense, he was in a good position to make the call but had his view blocked by Segura.
Estabrook is a human being as is every other umpire in the league. Generally speaking, these guys have a thankless job. They get calls right, no fanfare. When they inevitably blow a call, they are verbally abused, annihilated publicly by the media and sometimes by players and generally regarded as incompetent. Most of the attention is undeserved.
Every day in Major League Baseball, calls are blown by MLB umpires. We laugh as the faces of managers get redder and redder; expletives get louder and more venomous. The postgame press conferences make for great TV and fodder for comical chats at the water cooler.
I understand that it’s entertaining to see a manager throw a bucket of balls. I get that Roberto Alomar spitting in the face of an umpire produces fuel for the fire of sports talk shows everywhere. But a blown call doesn’t just piss off managers, players and fans for no reason. The outcome of games and ultimately World Series championships hang in the balance every time a call can go one way or another.
This discussion, just like the game itself, is not about the umpires. The fact that it’s indeed time to implement widespread instant reply has little to do with the competency of the guys who enforce the rulebook and has everything to do with what’s good for the game and it’s overall health going forward.
It’s about the fan that has been waiting 86 years to see the Red Sox win the World Series. It’s about the family who drops half of its yearly income to buy season seats to Wrigley Field only to be served broken hearts over a bad call that easily could be overturned and have justice served. It’s about the countless positions within each MLB organization that are dependent on wins and losses. That’s not just drama — jobs are lost every year because teams don’t perform. Too much is on the line here. We are talking about the business of baseball, which is inching closer to becoming truly international. Livelihoods and billions of dollars are at stake.
People are afraid of change. They fear new patterns overriding old. My wife hates when I introduce new technology into our family, but once she gets used to it, she loves it. Think back to your last smartphone purchase. You probably hated it at first, now you can’t stop telling your friends how great it is.
Now ask yourself if you miss the days before instant replay in the NFL. I can’t even remember it. But I can absolutely tell you that I like when they get calls right that were first called wrong on the field. At times, the instant replay is as exciting as the arguments on the field. Those of you who love the fireworks, have no fear. NFL coaches still rant and rave, spit and cuss on the sidelines, right?
It’s time for us in the baseball world to catch up. I’m in love with the tradition of baseball. I have the highest level of respect for our game’s history. However, I can’t stand that things are done just because, well, that’s the way they have always been done. And we are getting to that point without significant instant replay.
We can’t do this halfway or little by little. I’m all for correcting calls on the bases and everywhere for that matter. Of course I would like to have seen the great Jim Joyce’s 2010 call overturned so that then-Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga could own a perfect game. (I’m confident Jim would agree.) I want to see a home run count as a run, not a double. I want a player who makes a diving catch on the warning track be credited for a putout rather than the opposing batter credited with a triple.
Traditionalists, brace yourselves: When the technology is ready — and it soon will be — we need to let computers call balls and strikes with the game on the line. And we should be using the resources we have now and at every turn to make the game faster and better.
Let’s give the managers the ability to appeal any call, even related to the strike zone, with a challenge, similar to the way it’s done in the NFL. From the seventh inning on, the booth should review all close calls; cameras should manage balls and strikes. We allow computers to make so many decisions in our lives. We can push all in and let them be the umpires, or at least the umpire’s right-hand-man in our baseball games.
It’s time to let go of the notion that human error is somehow part of the beauty of the game when it is, in fact, a correctable blight. I for one am ready for MLB to rip off the Band-Aid and get this very important call right.
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