A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

After Further Review (Updated)…

Filed under: Fan Experience,Games — Tags: , — Wigi @ 8:33 pm May 27, 2009

… instant replay is toxic to Major League Baseball.

In baseball, every officiated call is subjective. It is the opinion of the umpire whose job it is to make that ruling. His (or her) opinion is the one that stands. That is fine. In fact, it is more than fine – it is part of the perfection of the sport. It isn’t about a calculation, or empirical evidence. It is a drama that plays out over time. It is an ebb and flow of events. It is human.

And it is precisely that reason that there is no room in baseball for instant replay. Because while an umpire may make a mistake, the umpire is never wrong. That is the basic premise that is at the core of the sport. The umpire is the last, final arbiter of what happens on the field. The umpire is, by definition, always right.

Allowing instant replay allows for the possibility that if an umpire makes a mistake, someone can review a video to determine whether that umpire is  wrong. Now that we’ve allowed for the possibility of an umpire to be wrong, every call is now open to interpretation. If you can use technology to determine whether a hit is a home run, why can’t you use the same technology to determine if a player beats a tag, or if a pitch is a ball or a strike? The technology exists to get these calls “right” all the time. Why don’t we use them? If it is appropriate in one case, shouldn’t it be appropriate in all cases?

The bottom line is, the mistakes that umpires make are random events. They’re professionals. The circumstances that arise that put the umpire in the position to make a judgment call – one about which he or she is absolutely right, by definition – occur randomly and in equal numbers for both teams. Instant replay doesn’t make the umpire’s calls more accurate or the outcome of the contest more fair. It doesn’t remove a bias. And at the same time, it slows down the game, polarizes the fans, and reduces the stature and authority of the umpires.

In the last three games, I’ve seen two instant replay scenarios. Having watched the video, I feel that the umpires ultimately made the wrong call both times. I am incensed, because they got it wrong both times, even with the help of technology. I feel cheated. And had the decisions gone the way I would have liked, Mets fans would feel the way that I do. But in both cases, I could live with an umpire making a judgment call without the aid of video, and having that call be a mistake.

Umpires making judgments is a part of the elegance of the game. The fact that they occasionally make mistakes is unfortunate, but it is also part of what makes baseball the wonderful game that it is. The technology and philosophic basis that underlies instant replay in baseball tramples on that elegance.

I am totally at peace with the idea that umpires make mistakes.

I find it completely intolerable that umpires can be wrong. Instant replay allows for umpires to be wrong. If they can be wrong, they’re not umpires.


Note on the home run from last night’s game: I went back and watched the SNY feed of the home run, and there is a very good angle that they had in that feed that shows clearly that the ball DID NOT change direction as it passed in front of the Subway sign. The SNY feed “rocks” the ball back and forth as it passes the sign, and the ball is taking a straight trajectory.

Also… while this is going on, Mets broadcaster Ron Darling comments that he doesn’t think it hit the sign, because he says that the fans in right field would have been reaching out to catch the ball if it was that close to them… and also, none of the fans are pointing to the sign to ‘help’ the umpires with the call. He thinks those fans know it didn’t hit the sign… and of course, Debbi Taylor went out there and interviewed some of the fans, and they said that they didn’t see or hear the ball hit the sign.

1 Comment »

  • For me, the issue is not just that the umps got it wrong, even with the “help” of replay, it’s that they seemed to use a different standard on two nights. If you can’t reverse the HR call on Monday because evidence is “inconclusive,” then it seems to me that you also can’t call a HR after-the-fact on Wednesday, when the evidence seems to be similarly inconclusive.

    Comment by dcbatgirl — May 28, 2009 @ 5:09 am

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