Patterico's Pontifications


Does MLB Need Expanded Instant Replay?

Filed under: Sports — DRJ @ 11:37 am

[Guest post by DRJ]

Major League Baseball has had some high-profile umpire mistakes recently, prompting this pre-World Series LA Times’ article by sportswriter Bill Shaikin:

“If the World Series at all resembles the first two rounds of the baseball playoffs, an umpire will make a bad call, a call so bad that instant replay will reveal the error for all of America to see, in living color, in high definition, and within seconds.”

The calls were so bad that MLB diverted from tradition in the way it assigned umps for the World Series. Nevertheless, the change hasn’t stopped the blown calls:

“Umpires added two more tick marks to their overflowing register of screw-ups Thursday night. These came in Game 2 of a World Series in which Major League Baseball broke from protocol and brought in a specific crew of veteran arbiters to ensure the miscues of the first two rounds wouldn’t dare find their way into games of such importance.”

Does Major League Baseball need expanded instant replay?


30 Responses to “Does MLB Need Expanded Instant Replay?”

  1. Up until a few years ago, I was adamantly opposed to it, athough I think the NFL has been well – served for the most part. However, the past decade has seen an increasing tendency on the umpires acting as if the game’s about them, and not the players. Couple that extreme arrogance with their reluctance to confab to make sure a dicey call is correct, and you’ve got the present situation – so they have to institute the replay system.

    Dmac (a964d5)

  2. Yes. If we have the technical ability to make the calls right, we should do so. I am generally a purist, but blown calls (Deckinger) have been a sticking-point for me for some time. I would even agree to electronic eval of balls and strikes.

    JD (d4c559)

  3. The family has discussed this very topic over Sunday gatherings with little or no consensus. One of us is a college level umpire who sees the benefit of technology, but is more favorable to an immediate umpiring improvement which would result from the institution of the overrule process from another umpire when necessary. For example, times when the umpire has the play blocked from view, or has made one of those glaring errors which could have been promptly overruled by another umpire.

    However, I’m the philistine in the group who would love to see technology brought to bear upon many parts of the game. First and foremost, I believe we have, or are close to having, the technology to determine whether a pitch is a ball or strike. Somehow adjust the strike zone to the individual batter for height, and you will take out one the most arbitrary aspects of the game. Being an pitcher in my younger days, I would have been ecstatic with a real target, not some imaginary zone. I was pretty good hitter, too, and not having to second guess the ump over strikes is a no-brainer.

    Calling lines is already part of tennis. Bang-bang calls at first, home, or any base really, could be fashioned after football’s red flag…manager gets so many per game. The cost of all this probably keeps it at the pro level until the technology price comes down, if ever. Don’t care. We see all kinds of amateur vs pro umpiring now which are from lack of funds.

    political agnostic (506472)

  4. Maybe I need a bigger TV, but the replay wasn’t conclusive in the first “blown call”, so the real-time call wouldn’t have been able to be overturned if they used the same standard that the NFL uses. The Yankees were already ahead and they ended up winning, so this was not a game-changer.

    On the second “blown call”, Utley was clearly shown to be safe on the replay, and the Phillies were out of the inning trying to come from behind, so it was possible that the outcome hinged on that call.

    If MLB expanded the replay and managers were permitted to request a review the same way the NFL coaches do, I can imagine dozens of Red Beanbags raining out of the stands at Yankee Stadium every time there’s a close call.

    Dave (in MA) (037445)

  5. Sports are played by people and judged by people. People are falliable. It’s part of the game. Get over it.

    Baseball games take long enough as it is with umps letting batters wander around home plate after every pitch with the ritual unwrapping and rewrapping of the gloves. Replay would make this even worse and kill what little remains of baseball as a game.

    If replay must come in then it should also include dismissal of umpires who refuse to strictly enforce Rules 6.02 and 8.04. Rule 6.02 allows umpires to call strikes on batters who get “the wanders” and 8.04 allows umpires to call balls on pitchers who do not deliver the ball within 12 seconds of receiving it from the catcher. Serious enforcement of both rules would return baseball games to the 2-hour length that they should be, TV ad revenue be damned.

    Captain Ned (28c191)

  6. Sports are played by people and judged by people. People are falliable. It’s part of the game. Get over it.

    Oh…OK, then let’s get rid of the high – tech football helmets that are designed to reduce concussions, and while we’re at it throw out the radio transmitters for QB’s, so they can’t hear the plays called in from the coach. Because after all, these are all devices manufactured by machines, not humans.

    People want the calls to be correct, period. Get used to it.

    Dmac (a964d5)

  7. Actually – and this is coming from someone who really doesn’t like baseball (but likes the drama of the World Series) – the fact that umpires make questionable calls (especially for balls and strikes) is one of the few things that keeps the game interesting. It’s more fun to cuss at an ump who you think hosed your team than to know that some damn machine is getting the call right every single time.

    Leviticus (30ac20)

  8. Leviticus – From a competitor’s point-of-view, getting the calls right should be far more important than your ability to argue about how crappy an ump is. Consistency and routine application are the ideals for players.

    JD (f1caab)

  9. Yeah, I know – the childish part of me would rather be able to argue, but the more mature part of me knows that if there’s a way to make the game more consistent then that would be good.

    Leviticus (30ac20)

  10. Hitting averages and overall numbers would prolly go up pretty quickly were there a uniform strike zone that each batter could count on. However, that might be off-set by pitchers getting the higher strikes called, since the strike zone is pretty uniformly smaller and lower than where it was intended.

    JD (f1caab)

  11. My dad umped for some 20 years, getting up to the college level, and he soccer reffed for years and years, too. He says that bang-bang calls at first base are the easiest calls to make perhaps in all of sports. It’s bang-BANG! after all (or vice versa). You can hear what happened on the damned play. Literally, a blind man could call such plays. There have two of them blown recently (that I can recall).

    Come on umps! Shut your eyes!

    Viktor Nehring (0a911a)

  12. Every Umpire has his own unique strike-zone, and the players all know (or should know) what it is, and no amount of complaining is going to change it, nor should it – as long as he calls the zone the same for all batters.
    I heartedly agree with enforcing 6.02 & 8.04 to impose a little discipline onto the players. At the same time, the Managers should have the ability to “request” a “conference of the crew” to the crew-chief, who would have to explain – in writing – to both managers and the Commissioner’s Office, why such a request was denied.

    AD - RtR/OS! (2b030e)

  13. Comment by Viktor Nehring — 10/30/2009 @ 2:26 pm


    AD - RtR/OS! (2b030e)

  14. AD – I partially agree, but I would err on the side of consistency. As is, a batter has approximately 162 different strike zones to adapt to, as do pitchers.

    Some umps are consistent game to game, but many are not even close, calling different zones based on the pitcher, home/away, etc …

    JD (42d1cb)

  15. I don’t think that instant replay is all that practical in baseball. In football it is understandable to use it to see if a receiver caught a pass, or even if a ballcarrier fumbled the ball before his knee went down. In basketball it can be used to see whether or not a shooter’s foot was behind the three-point line. But how in baseball — beyond the current use of getting home runs right — would you use it?

    Take this scenario: runner on second, no out. The batter hits a line drive deep into the gap between center and left. The center fielder chargers after the ball. Not knowing whether or not it will be caught, the runner on second goes halfway between second and third. The center fielder dives as the ball is falling towards the ground. the left field umpire thinks he sees a catch and calls the batter out, so the runner retreats back to second. Can this play be reviewed? Let’s say that it is, and it is determined that the ball actually hit the ground before bouncing into the center fielder’s glove. How is this then judged? Had the call been made correctly, the runner on second would have had a very strong likelihood of scoring. Do you therefore give him two bases and a run? Does the batter get second on a double, or is he held to a single?

    What about a version of the scenario above where the runner takes off from second on the pitch and the batter bloops one into the shallow field where the second baseman makes a diving catch with his back to home plate while heading into right field. Let’s say that he catches the ball, but the umpire misses it and declares it not caught and still in play. The batter, who has reached third, sees this and heads home. The second baseman alertly gets up and throws the ball to the shortstop, now standing on second. When the call is overturned is the runner now out for having left base early on a fly ball? Can the runner plausibly argue that had the call been made correctly, he would have hustled back to second before the throw back to the base could be made?

    It because of reasons like the above that I don’t see instant replay being practical in major league baseball.

    JVW (d32e06)

  16. I don’t mind human error all that much, at least in a game, even a professional game on which millions are riding.

    It is, after all, a sport.

    If MLB can ban performance enhancing drugs because they take fairness off the table, then it can certainly live with the occasional human error on the part of an ump.

    That said, the umps need better training. There are a few I see regularly whom I know are going to make bad calls during the course of any game, no matter where they’re standing.

    If we’re going to insist on perfection, then why not lasers on home plate to tell if a ball ‘just catches the corner’?

    Hell, if we’re really after perfection, why not just have computers simulate the game? [Viz. ‘Star Trek’ Ep. #23 ‘A Taste of Armageddon’.]

    John Burgess (8f4b1b)

  17. “…why not just have computewhy not just have computers simulate the game…”

    I’m reminded of a drawing that was published in Road & Track 40+ years ago after racing teams started doing race simulations on dynos to test their engines. It showed the S/F straight at Indy with 33 engines on 33 dynos with 33 drivers at the controls, and the Guest-of-Honor announcing “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines”!

    As much as possible, let’s leave computers out of sports, particularly where we have paid, professional officials.
    If they can’t do the job, fire them – it works everywhere else.

    AD - RtR/OS! (2b030e)

  18. John Burgess — 10/30/2009 @ 3:17 pm

    I think you are entirely right about the umps needing better training. Remember back to when they went on strike, and Sports Illustrated or some other sports outlet did a story on the amazing number of MLB umps who were obese. This turned out to be a problem because their lack of mobility meant that oftentimes they were unable to get into the proper position to judge a play. I don’t see as many obese umps these days, but I still do think that many of them fail to position themselves correctly to make the proper calls.

    JVW (d32e06)

  19. The only way we’ll see a reduction in the number of blown calls is installing instant replay and coaches’ challenges, and you have to convince the sportswriters and fans that they’re necessary before MLB will pull the trigger. Think about it–if you were able to review big plays then the baseball beat writers could no longer say “Team X lost because the ump needs glasses!” Right now most of the commentary about blown calls is “we need umpires to be flawless!”, which is ironic when you consider these guys work for newspapers and Fanhouse.

    Personally, I think the NFL does a really good job with replays despite all the complaints from irritated fans: sometimes a really awesome play is overturned because someone was holding a defender, other times because Tom Brady’s arm was moving forward and it’s not a fumble. The only improvement I’d make is allowing refs to use TV coverage for replays as well as the official films.

    Bottom line: there will always be mistakes, and even solid referees like Hochuli will mess up, and you need replay to ensure the ref didn’t miss something.

    Roger (4bb0ce)

  20. Roger – Brady fumbled, and the Raiders got screwed.

    JD (9ab2c9)

  21. Roger – Brady fumbled, and the Raiders got screwed.

    JD (9ab2c9)

  22. On balls and strikes, the technology is there to give instant cues to the umpires whether a pitch is a ball or a strike, and still leave the final decision to him. For the past ten years the TV networks have used on-screen strike zone depictions. Converting a high tech ball or strike into an aural tone to an earpiece would be no great problem.

    Corky Boyd (4e8f68)

  23. Corky, I question some of those TV, hi-tech calls too.

    AD - RtR/OS! (d702e6)

  24. It’s great to strive to get every call right, but we’re talking about 4 hour games in regulation.

    Almost every double play/force out will have to be reviewed to eliminate the “neighborhood play”, as well as tag plays at all bases where umpires routinely call a guy out just because the ball gets there ahead of the runner, even when replay clearly shows the tag not made, or made high after the runner touches, etc.

    I would hope it is limited to home run, fair or foul, direct review of a run scoring, and a couple of challenges for each team. No way, no how, on balls and strikes.

    Matador (e01f85)

  25. Oh good. I was wondering what we could do to make these epically-long time-sinks from hell any longer.

    This looks like it will perform that role nicely…

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  26. All of the replay in the world would still have the Cubs going 101+ years without a World Series.

    JD (9cf90a)

  27. New owner promised a world series win for the cubbies. A camera suspended on cables directly over home plate and a camera directly at the side centered on the strike zone but out of play would (except for minor parallax errors)would give an instant indication of balls and strikes.

    Hazy (996c34)

  28. No.

    carlitos (030057)

  29. Tennis has those laser-beam things for in / out calls. Watching John McEnroe was a lot more fun.

    carlitos (030057)

  30. Some of you act like blown calls are a desired outcome. They aren’t. They are only an “expected” outcome. And they are only expected because the game was invented before instant replay. That expectation (and therefore people’s satisfaction with blown calls) will diminish as time goes by, and people see how well football’s system works.

    Also, practically speaking, those of you arguing that the games are too long already and this will only add hours and hours, come on, get real. There has been an abnormally large number of such obviously bad calls this postseason, and I can still count them on my hands. If they’d been reviewed by an ump in the video booth, we’re talking maybe an extra 3 minutes each. Big freaking deal. An extra 3 minutes to correct an obviously wrong call? How is that not worth it?

    Linus (19ef5f)

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