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 ?