Sawhney: Time for baseball to modernize

Oct. 13, 2010, 1:35 a.m.

Baseball needs instant replay. The debate is over.

No, seriously, it’s over.

Wait, it’s not over? How can this still be an ongoing issue? After a weekend of botched calls that could have been decisive, after a season that saw Armando Galarraga lose a perfect game (on the 27th out, no less), there are some people, both inside Major League Baseball and outside of it, that continue to insist that there’s no need to expand the use of instant replay. These people cite a number of harebrained reasons to continue with the way things are.

So, instead of rehashing the numerous reasons for the adoption of instant replay (chiefly that it would allow umps to get calls right, which is, you know, their job), let’s take a look at the twisted logic that seems to rule the mind of baseball commissioner Bud Selig on this issue.

Reason 1: Replay can’t help umpires in a lot of situations.

To its credit, this argument does apply to some aspects of the game. Balls, strikes and checked swings are, to an extent, subjective based on the umpire of the day. While one day it may be possible to use technology to improve ball-strike calls, today’s technology isn’t sophisticated enough to define the strike zone accurately for every single hitter and provide complete consistency.

That being said, there are a lot of situations where replay could definitely apply beyond calling home runs and questionable fair/foul calls. Replay could be used to determine whether a fielder had appropriately applied the tag to a sliding runner, whether a runner was safe or out at first base, if a fielder had made a diving catch, etc. Every replay technology does have some limitations–even football, the sport that has most enthusiastically adopted replay, has some types of plays that are not reviewable calls (especially on penalties). But just because it can’t help on every call doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be used on the calls it can make accurate.

Reason 2: Human error is part of the game.

Human error isn’t just a part of baseball; it’s a part of everyday life. However, just because we make mistakes naturally doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use technology to minimize those mistakes. In baseball, a hitter missing a pipe fastball is a result of human error; a base runner misreading the signs is human error; two fielders running into each other is human error.

The human error in umpiring is the type of error we should seek to eliminate. We want the rules to be fairly, evenly and correctly applied to everyone; it’s extremely harmful when a group of umpires stands clueless on the field as the TV audience watches them proven wrong in crystal-clear 1080p hi-def. Galarraga’s perfect game is an ideal example: Human perfection was taken away by human error, but the error was from an authority that, ideally, will be correct 100 percent of the time. When we have the ability to reach that ideal, I fail to see why baseball stubbornly refuses to utilize it.

Reason 3: Replay will add a lot of time to games.

Look guys, if you’re really worried about how long the games are taking (and trust me, it’s a damn long time), you have bigger worries than the amount of time a replay review might take. The average time of a baseball game has been steadily creeping up, and the sport has been losing fans and interest as a result. I could probably write an entirely separate column on this issue, but suffice it to say for now that it’s something else that needs to be tackled.

The best way to handle this problem would be to have a fifth umpire up in the booth responsible solely for replay (similar to the replay official at college football games). If nowhere else, this extra umpire should at least be utilized for the playoffs, so that he can review calls quickly and relay information down to the crew chief on the field. For the regular season, if baseball doesn’t want to add an extra umpire to every crew, managers can be given a single challenge, and (similar to football) get the challenge back if they win it.

Reason 4: Tradition.

Baseball simply doesn’t want to move out of its storied past, when it truly was the “national pastime” (and before it was rocked by the Steroid Era). Well, here’s a newsflash: Baseball is declining in popularity across the nation, as people flock to more fast-paced sports that don’t take a minute between every 10 seconds of action (i.e. football). Sticking to tradition hasn’t helped baseball any up to this point, so why should it help on the issue of umpiring calls?

The sport needs to begin moving into the modern age more rapidly, and instant replay is one area that it can quickly adopt that would instantly restore some of its lost credibility. Baseball’s reputation has been tarnished by steroids, and its fan following is growing more and more disillusioned with every season. It’s time to start restoring some of that credibility by making sure that the play on the field is as fair and even as possible.

The previous column is under review. The ruling on the field is that Kabir Sawhney can be reached at [email protected]

Kabir Sawhney is currently a desk editor for the News section. He served as the Managing Editor of Sports last volume.

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