Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Replay, Go Away

I am troubled by Major League Baseball's soon-to-launch foray into instant replay.

Commissioner Bud Selig says replay will be used on a very limited basis, and MLB says reversing an on-field call will require "clear and convincing evidence".

And how will baseball achieve this? By having the umpire crew chief disappear from the field and watch video clips being fed back from New York. Who knows how long that'll take, and who knows if those clips will really help the umps get it right.

Remember, the only reviewable plays will be home runs: fair or foul, in the stands or not, touched by a fan or not. Think back. No doubt, you've seen a few of these plays that remained puzzling even after repeated replays. And don't forget: a human is still making the call.

The bottom line on replay is this: it's not 100% perfect. And since it isn't, why bother? Why delay games on the pretense of perfection?

My personal bias is to just let the umps make the call and live with it. Yet many people are uncomfortable with that. They're not comfortable with letting humans decide things.

Fine. Then turn it over to machines, the way tennis has done with the Hawk-Eye system that allows players to challenge line calls and get instant, automated results.

Hawk-Eye technology is already being used in tennis and being tested in cricket and soccer. In theory, it could also be used in hockey to speed up the often-lengthy reviews of disputed goals.

At the end of the day, I think it really does come down to two schools of thought. One camp thinks we need to right every wrong, reverse every blown call. The other camp (mine) is OK with the fallibility of human beings, and is willing to accept a bad call as fundamentally no different from a bad hop: a break of the game.

I used to think I was alone, but I keep hearing from athletes who agree with me. Here's what Angels center fielder Torii Hunter told the Los Angeles Times: "I like the human decision of the umpires, whether it's right or wrong. That's what makes baseball. Guy might be safe and called out, all the fans get upset and scream, everyone jumping up and down. That's kind of cool."

Right on.

No comments: