Human Error is a Part of the Game
No play in baseball has lead to more outcry for the incorporation of expanded replay use by umpires than the blown Jim Joyce call which cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game in the bottom of the ninth. While baseball has been inching towards expanding the use of replay, many will soon find that while replay will solve some deficiencies in the game, it will merely adjust how these deficiencies surface.
It always seemed that a large reason that the game had resisted replay was because its fans believed in two axioms; 1. People make mistakes and 2. Umpires are people. Fans accepted that human error was part of the game and that the human element just another obstacle to overcome. This mentality stems from strike zone discrepancies with different umpires. The general rule is that anything over the plate from the letters to the knees is a strike, but anyone that’s played baseball/softball knows that each umpire sees this zone differently. No other sport relies so heavily on the umpire to define the terms of the majority of the game. And since the game is so dependent on the umpire for balls and strikes, inconsistent “mistake” calls are inevitable. And it always seemed that because of this, we were willing to accept that umpire call were imperfect, even on the base paths.
But it’s 2013, and people are less tolerant of mistakes at the professional level. The demand for expanded replay has grown when fans witness blown call after blown call on the base paths and with fair/foul balls. While the reasoning for expanded replay use has been well vocalized and developed, the ramifications of play review have not been equally evaluated, even though expanded replay will result in longer games, continual play discrepancies, and continual human error.
The most obvious unintended consequence is the lengthening of games. Baseball as a sport is already ragged on because the game “drags on.” Currently, the average baseball game lasts just under three hours. Once umpires are allowed to review plays and consult, the game will see its average game time increase, just like basketball and football, making the baseball experience an even longer affair for non-diehard fans.
While many look for replay to remove the discrepancy that results from human interpretation, this won’t necessarily be the case. When replay is used to determine that a foul ball down the line is actually fair, it will be up to the umpires to determine how many bases the player will be awarded, which can vary depending on the depth of the hit and park proportions. There is no clear cut determining factor, unlike the ground rule double, making awarding bases and runs entirely arbitrary and unrelated to the players skills. Umpires then become even more involved in the game, and can receive more backlash.
Additionally, umpires can still blow calls after looking at replay, an unfortunate event that already happened this year. Earlier in the season, the Athletics were visiting the Indians and were trailing 4-3 in the top of the ninth. Into the box steps Adam Rosales and he crushes a ball deep to left field. The ball looks like a homer but is ruled a double on the field. Due to this discrepancy, the umpires review the play. Fans at home watch the replay and A’s fans rejoice because the hit is clearly a homer. The umpires come back out and rule to the contrary and put Rosales at second. A’s then load the bases before grounding out to the pitcher and losing the game. The next day, the umpires and MLB admit that they botched the call, a call which cost the A’s the chance forcing extra innings. Thus, while replay can reduce the number of botched calls, this problem is not eliminated and leaves umpires with little to no excuse for mistakes.
While instant replay appears to solve some of the problems that are present in the game, baseball will never be able to entirely eliminate human error and discrepancies.
The Case for Expanded Replay
Nothing in sports is an exact science, but considering the amount of time, money, and effort that goes into playing a baseball game, the league should be doing everything in its power to get a call right. Commissioner Selig has been wary of adding replay to the game for all the reasons that Ryan outlined above, and they are certainly valid, but we have come to a point with technology where no calls should be getting blown and no one should feel cheated or ripped off.
Below are some examples from this year showing that this is indeed a real problem in the game right now. Umpires miss calls. Like Ryan said: it happens, they are human.
And my personal favorite:
In the Adam Rosales home run case from Ryan’s article, the umpires got it wrong. MLB admitted that the call was blown and the A’s ended up losing that game. But can we really fault the umpires for blowing the call when, according to NBC Sports, they were watching the footage on this?
There are many other examples of blown calls so far this year even though we aren’t half way through the season yet. So, the problem exists, what should we do about it?
First off, MLB needs to upgrade the screens and televisions that umpires are using to review plays. It looks like the ones they currently use double as a way to check the weather during rain delays. There is no excuse for having umpires review on what looks to be a Pac-Man arcade game that has more pixels than the center field scoreboard.
Next, the MLB must expand their use of replay. The argument that review would slow down the game makes sense, but doesn’t the game already get slowed down when a player argues with the umpire? And then the manager argues with the umpire? And then the manager gets tossed? And then the manager keeps arguing since he’s already tossed and can say what he really feels now? And then the players bark at the umpire from the dugout and get tossed? I think you get my point, but think about all the extra time that bad calls currently soak up in a regular baseball game.
This could all be avoided with the introduction of a “challenge flag” system like the one practiced in the NFL. Certain plays would be deemed reviewable, and a manager could get 1-2 challenges per game. This of course would not work on balls and strikes. Since that is still sacred ground with umpires, and this Kickstarter failed. Umpires would be able to review a call and save face on a blown call by reviewing it and getting it right, and managers and players would be happy since they would no longer feel cheated out of an at bat, hit or run.
Baseball will never be perfect, but considering the expectations that we place on baseball players and management to do everything right all the time, that same expectation must be placed on its umpires. An expanded replay system will not only make sure that the umpires have the materials they need to get the call right as often as possible, but it will eliminate grudges and animosity between players, managers, and umpires. This will lead to fewer ejections and hurt feelings, and most importantly a better ball game.