When Will Baseball Add Instant Replay?

A still frame shot of the missed call last night.

Can you think of any reason why baseball doesn’t currently have instant replay?  Ever since the call last night, I’ve been trying to think of any possible reason why the sport has been so reluctant to make the switch to an obvious improvement.  I can’t think of any reason.

I can’t think of any reason, because baseball doesn’t object to reviewing plays.  We saw that earlier in the year when they went back, reviewed a call, and took away a hit from Andrew McCutchen, in a game that happened a few weeks before the call reversal.  That decision ended Andrew McCutchen’s hitting streak at the time.

I can’t think of any reason, because the old “instant replay slows down the game” theory ignores the fact that the game is already slowed down by an automatic argument between the manager and umpire in such calls.  Meanwhile, we get instant results of whether a pitch was a ball or a strike, and a quick look at a replay can give us a better idea of whether the correct call was made, all in the time it takes for a manager to charge out and get in a minute long argument.

I can’t think of any reason, because baseball isn’t even totally against instant replay.  They currently have instant replay on home run calls.  So they’ve agreed that instant replay is needed, but at the same time, they won’t apply it to the entire game.

I want to compare baseball and instant replay to people who refuse to have a cell phone.  But it’s hard to make that comparison with that last fact.  Instead, baseball is like a person who finally decides to purchase a cell phone, but only uses the phone at home, thus totally negating the value of even having this modern technology.

The only argument that seems to exist against instant replay is that it maintains the “human element”.  The human element is part of the game.  It basically revolves around the fact that humans aren’t perfect, and are prone to errors.  However, it’s one thing for a team to make an error that might cost them the game.  It’s another thing for an umpire to make an error that will cost a team a game.  The goal of umpiring is to oversee the game, and make sure the correct calls are made.  That doesn’t always happen as it should, and it’s because of the human element.  So basically, the only advantage to the human element is that it allows us to have more bad calls.

We’ve reached an age in technology where there’s very little need for umpires.  Balls and strikes can be instantly called by cameras, and with much better accuracy.  You don’t have different strike zones for different umpires.  You don’t have different strike zones for different pitchers.  You obviously need someone making the calls on the field, but close plays can’t be judged with the proper accuracy by one person making a split second decision.

Baseball purists will argue that this is how the game has always been.  Pitchers adjust to the strike zone of the night.  Good pitchers get the benefit of the doubt on calls.  Mistakes are made on the field by umpires on close calls.  This is how the game has always been played, but the only reason it’s been played that way is because humans are incapable of making correct calls with 100% accuracy, and for the majority of baseball’s history, we didn’t have the technology that would allow us to improve the accuracy of such calls.  The “this is how the game has been played” argument would prevent every advancement in society if it was applied to everything in life.

Last night was a situation where a bad call clearly decided the game.  You can argue that there was a small chance that the correct call was made.  Replays and still frame shots don’t show the tag being made with 100% certainty.  However, when you’ve got everyone, including the Atlanta Braves announcers, saying the call was missed, you’ve got a strong case that an incorrect call was made.

Any time a call is made that impacts the game in a major way, there are always arguments brought up which point out that the blame isn’t totally on the call.  Even if the correct call was made last night, that didn’t guarantee the Pirates would end up winning the game.  You could point out how the Pirates didn’t score for 17 innings, and argue that they would have never reached the blown call if they would have capitalized on their chances earlier.  Of course, that’s a two sided coin.  The call would have never been made if the Braves would have taken advantage of their many chances in extra innings.

It’s true that the call might not have changed the outcome of the game.  It’s true that the Pirates had their chances to win earlier in the game.  It’s also true that the Braves could have won earlier.  None of this changes the fact that the game did go to 19 innings, and a bad call was made to end the game.  You could go through any game in history that ends with a controversial call and point out something earlier in the game that would have avoided the call being the deciding factor.  But does that excuse the fact that a bad call was made?

The fact is that a bad call decided the game last night.  The outcome might have been the same if the correct call was made, but at least then it would have been the Pirates’ fault that they lost, rather than the umpire’s fault.  If you have instant replay, you avoid this whole mess.  A quick check to a central office, or a fifth umpire, and you get the right call.  A great game continues, and you eventually get a conclusive result.  There’s really no reason why we can’t have this option in baseball.  Baseball has a chance to improve the accuracy of calls on the field.  They obviously agree with the method enough to implement instant replay in part of the game.  Why not add instant replay to the rest of the game?  Forget how the game was played for a hundred years before we had computers and all of the modern technology that gives us the capabilities to add accuracy to the game.  This is Major League Baseball in the year 2011.  The year 2011 has the technology for a computer to call balls and strikes, and for replay from multiple angles to avoid botched calls like the one that was made last night.  Baseball has no reason to avoid this technology.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    The only problem that i see with instant replay is the way it is implemented.

    The NFL makes it a long drawn out affair…. first the officials confer then they have to make a formal announcement….then the official has to go under cover to look at the replay himself….then he slowly walks to a spot on the field and tells his decision.

    All they need to do is have an official in a booth looking at replays as soon as it looks like there may be a problem….by the time the officials confer and decide there is a problem, the person in the booth could call down and tell them what the call was…all they have to do on the field is set the ball down where it is supposed to be and continue the action…..they don’t even have to make an announcment …just continue the play just like it was any other play. Everybody knows that the play was reviewed or they can make an announcement on the scoreboard without holding up the game.

    Baseball could do the same thing by having someone reviewing a close play as soon as it happens and showing the decision on the scoreboard in a matter of seconds.

    The problem is the lawyers and beaurocrats in the front office of baseball need to make it complicated.

    And the really big holdup is THE FREAKING UMPIRES UNION.

    • David Lewis

      Put a fifth umpire in the booth and you’ve just added 17 major league umpire jobs, an increase of 20%.  I think the umpires’ union could be convinced.

      Give the booth ump the ability to buzz the field crew if he sees an incorrect call.  The ump who made the call then can choose to go over to the phone and ask what he saw, just like an ump can currently consult with the rest of the crew and ask what they saw.  If he’s convinced, he can reverse his call.  No loss of authority, no more time taken than today.

  • Anonymous

    Hockey uses replay much quicker and more efficiently than any other sport. The referee points some guy in Toronto looks at it. 30 seconds.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZTJO3GIUHHTNMKRKQKK7VVWVG4 Kevin Scott

    Even after last night, I hope they never add replay.  I wish that they would get rid of it from football too.  In football it has completely changed the way the refs call the game and not for the better.  Now refs let plays go on for a couple extra seconds before blowing the whistle.  This creates situations like forward progress being completely stopped and the play should be dead, but instead the players get stood up while the defense continuosly strips at the ball.  On numerous occassions fumbles are called on these plays that would’ve been over in the past.  That’s just one example but sloppy plays like that make for a less enjoyable game.  Plus, sometimes they still get it wrong even after replay.  Overall, replay doesn’t enhance the game, it just makes us feel like they tried their hardest to get the play right. 

  • Anonymous

    I have no argument for why instant replay should not be used in situations like last night but I do have an argument on why it shouldn’t be used for every call. Lets a say a ball is hit hard down one of the lines, lands fair but is called foul. The players then of course stop. Replay overturns the call but what happens to the batter and what happens to any runners? Obviously you can say use best judgement but is that really fair? What if the chances were there would have been a close play at the plate do you just tell the runner he’s at 3rd when he might have scored?

    Even with last night’s call. What do you do with Proctor do you give him 1st or do you call him out since he might have been doubled off? What about the runner at 1st he probably would have had an oppurtunity to take 3rd? Do you give him 3rd or make him stay at 2nd?

    • Anonymous

      Those things can be worked out, just like the sometimes unfairness of the ground rule double call when clearly if the ball just bounced off the wall a  runner on base  could have advanced further but is held up.

      The problem with last nights missed call was it ended the game. If replay is instituted players in the future would be trained to continue the play even if it is game ending untill it can be looked at.

  • David Lewis

    I pretty much agree with everything Tim says, except for balls and strikes.  The systems used today to record balls and strikes – QuesTec, PitchFX, and especially the box put on the screen during games – are at best approximations of a complex three-dimensional space.  I don’t know that the technology exists today to accurately map that space (taking into consideration that the top and bottom are different for every batter, and need to be mapped exactly as the ball crosses the plate – not when it’s released by the pitcher, and not after it’s caught by the catcher) and the ball’s flight through it.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not opposed to replay, but the way the NFL does it is ridiculous.  I hate the challenges.  All reviews should come from the booth.