Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Instant Replay

Last night's 19 inning marathon of a baseball game between the Braves and the Pirates not only gave baseball fans something to talk about for it's longevity, but gave way to a fresh new debate on the use of replay in baseball.  Fortunately, my team, the Braves, were on the lucky end of the questionable (okay, flat wrong) call, but as a game-decider it is unfortunate it had to come down to one man's split-second decision based on eyes that must have been tired after over 6 hours of calling balls and strikes. 

So what is baseball to do with this quandary.  Always one to hold out in the wake of technology's onslaught, America's game still holds to it's traditions. But when a call can mean a win or a loss, is it worthwhile to use technology?  Before I speculate further on whether baseball should go 21st century, I"ll comment briefly on a few other sports and use of replay.

Football.  The use of instant replay is so annoying in football, particularly the NFL (I can't even think of what the CFB rules are on replay).  That is not to say I don't think it's important, but more that I value my Sunday afternoons too much to have games last for 4 hours because guys in stripes are huddled under dark hoods for 15% of the time.  Maybe, just maybe, replay adds to the suspense of the game, but it also adds on precious minutes to a game that last for hours but where only a small percentage of those hours are actually people playing football.  The challenge system is a decent way to reign in the chaos of having open season on every close call, so for that I'm thankful, but in a game like football, you win some, you lose some, just let  them play.

Soccer.  For being as pitifully (at least according to most American sports fans) low scoring a sport as soccer is, it is inbelievably intense for that same reason.  One goal can make the difference in a game, and often does.  For this reason, I am wholly in favor of using technology for goal-line calls.  That soccer has lagged on this for as many years as it has when similarly goal-scant sports like pro hockey have had it for a while is puzzling.  Perhaps the fear is that using replay would interfere with one of soccer's greatest strengths, it's predictable time-frame.  Games last 2 hours. That's it. Tournament games can have overtimes, but even then, the utilization of penalty kicks still puts a firm end to the contest (different argument for a different day).  Since goals are so scarce, I feel that simply adding goal-line technology would do little to slow the pace or tempo of the game.  Were technology to be expanded in soccer, the next logical tiers would be to add off-side "invisible lines" which could simply buzz a line-judge if he missed a call. That's do-able right?  The second use, which would likely involve replay, would be on corner vs. goal kicks.  Because set pieces can change games, and who kicked a ball out of bounds isn't so much a judgment call (as it would be with say, a trip or a handball), I can see an argument for using technology there.  But in all, I like the flow of soccer without over-teching it, save on goal-line calls.

Tennis.  Love technology in tennis.  Those nifty shot-spots are quick, conclusive and truly can affect match outcomes.  Allotting a certain number of challenges to players means its not a line-call free-for-all, but that at key stages, a player can question the ability of a line-judge standing 8-10 feet from where a 130mph serve hits the court. 

So back to baseball.  As America's game loses traction to college and pro football, both of which have replay, adding some technology could help with fan rapport.  Plus, games are already long, so what's a few extra minutes to ensure a call is right.  From an umpire's perspective, while the use of replay may be a ding to my pride, ultimately it would also take some weight off my shoulders.  Don't you think that 1st base ump who missed the out call, thereby thwarting a kid's no-hitter chance would have liked some back-up?  If last night's umpire knew that replay technology was part of the game, he might not feel so bad this morning. 

I have the utmost respect for officials in every professional sport (Women's World Cup officials not withstanding), and particularly for baseball umpires.  I find it astounding that over more than a century of close calls, those guys have gotten it right about 90% of the time, maybe more.  But they get it wrong a few times, which is why I think I'm in favor of replay for base calls. Balls and strikes, no way, lets keep SOME drama in the game. But because of the importance of runners on base, allow managers challenges, just like in the NFL.

I would only hope that said challenge system would not do away with portly guys over 50 in tight pants waddling out of their respective dugouts to get in the face of umpires.  Because that is a classic part of baseball that no gentleman (or lady ) would want to lose.

What are your thoughts on instant replay / technology in baseball ? 

Monday, July 18, 2011


My love of sports is both a blessing and a curse. 
Most acutely on days like today.  

Let me explain.  The U.S. Women's soccer team has given soccer a front page billing for the past few weeks and given me a reason to delight again and again in the joy of sport.  Their 11th hour comeback against Brazil, their thorough defeat of a resilient French team; it all seemed to be a perfect segue for a championship.  But they lost, after dominating the game against a smaller, overmatched Japan team, somehow they lost.  I left the house with 15 minutes to play, the girls up 2 goals to 1 in the second overtime.  I headed to a tennis match. And while the fate of the US soccer team unravelled, my tennis-playing fate soon followed.  Up 5-0 in the decisive 3rd set, my partner and I somehow then lost 5 consequetive games, ultimately losing in a tie-breaker.

I wanted so desperately to throw things, storm off, because really I made too many errors. Just tooooo many errors particularly down that stretch.  Ugh, it's so massively frustrating because of the high respect and love I have for sport.  That when I fail, choke, crumble. It's devastating.  

I returned with great hope, to finish out the rest of the recorded soccer match and at least have something to celebrate.  But another collapse played out in front of me.  I suppose the blow was not so harsh watching it on tape, but the message was clear.  Sport deals harsh blows as much as it deals great glory.   Now I think back on the 2 sporting collapses tonight and feel gutted. Betrayed by the thing that I love so much. But I suppose that's what love is, and what it means sometimes:  failure, redemption and everything in between.

But while I feel depressed by losses, I'm reminded of friends and family whose life has dealt them anguish that sport has only temporarily inflicted on me today.  Broken marriages, illness, the loss of loved ones seem to abound when you've walked this planet long enough, and most particularly of late.

When sport, or even life deals me blows that leave me scowling or frustrated, I can't help but look to the things I'm thankful for.  As I came in the house from my match, my precious daughter was there smiling and saying "Mommy!"  She had been well-cared-for by my dear husband while I was gone.  And this made me very happy.  I held her tight and felt the rush of anger and aggression I had experienced moments earlier just dissipate. 

The U.S. lost to a Japan team whose nation still reels from loss, destruction and heartbreak wrought by the spring tsunami.  If anyone has perspective on sport, it is that team.  I'm glad that for these moments and days to come they can celebrate with their teammates and countrymen the joy and unity of sport. I'm sad it's at my teams expense, but that's the way it goes sometimes in life and in sport.