Instant replay is used in practically every professional sport in one way or another. The NFL and college football use instant replay to review fumbles, completions, and even spotting the ball correctly. The NBA and college basketball utilize replay to determine if a shot was released before time expired. Even professional tennis uses replay to determine if a ball landed in or out of bounds.
Then there is Major League Baseball. The Majors have never used instant replay for anything and continue to not use it even here in 2007. Is it time for MLB to begin using instant replay in regular and postseason games? Many fans, journalists, and even those involved directly in the game would say that it is indeed time. However, not everybody is in agreement.
One argument that is often used for keeping instant replay out of Major League Baseball is the “human element” that is involved in the game. The umpires are the first and only word when it comes to making calls out on the field. A bad call on a bang-bang play or different strike zones among empires could definitely change the course of a ballgame but that is the way the game has been played for a century and a half. Traditionalists would argue that baseball is as old fashioned a sport as you can get and the game should continue to be played in the same fashion.
Those same fans see instant replay as more of a nuisance than good. Once instant replay is used by Major League Baseball for one set of calls then when will it end? Will replay be used only on close plays at the plate or determining if a ball was actually fair or foul? What if, in the bottom of the ninth of a close game, a pitch is called a ball that appeared to be a strike? Will that be reviewed?
Obviously there are times when instant replay would be beneficial to the game. Roughly a month ago Cleveland was playing a game in Chicago and the Tribe sure could have used some sort of replay system being in place. A White Sox hitter hit a deep fly ball and, as the ball headed into the stands, it veered towards the foul pole. The ball clearly landed in foul territory in the stands but the umpire misread where the ball landed. He judged the ball to be fair and called it as such. After the four umpires got together to discuss the play the ball was ruled to be fair and Chicago was awarded with a home run. Three runs scored on the play and the Indians subsequently had no chance of completing a comeback that had begun an inning before.
Replays on television showed that the ball landed a few rows in fall territory. The umpires working that game didn’t get a chance to see that, though, because of Major League Baseball not having any replay system institutionalized. In the long run the loss didn’t hurt the Tribe. The Indians are headed to the playoffs as AL Central Division champs.
That’s not the point, though. What if this would have been a playoff game or even a World Series game? If this same instance took place in game seven of the World Series fans would want the call to be correct. It wouldn’t matter how the correct call would come to be.
I consider myself to be not just a huge baseball fan but a traditionalist as well. However, I fail to see how implementing instant replay into Major League Baseball will hurt the game. What’s important is that if Major League Baseball decides to go ahead and use instant replay the league mandates when the system can and cannot be used and then sticks to it. If I were commissioner (and God knows I should be) I would bring instant replay into the game but only use it in situations like the one that happened in the Cleveland-Chicago game. In a play such as the one umpires are roughly 200 feet away from the play. They are going to get one wrong every now and then. Replay would be a great service to them and to the game.
I would keep instant replay away from judgment calls such as whether a runner is safe or out. I would also not use it for balls and strikes. This way, the human element remains in the game and replay is only used when it is absolutely necessary. A play will only come under review when the umpires feel it necessary to do so. Umpires will be evaluated in the same manner they are now. Those that make too many mistakes will not be available to work postseason games and thus will lose out on bigger paychecks.
Unfortunately I just don’t see MLB using instant replay in the near future. I really think it will take a big-time game such as an elimination game of a playoff series being decided by a blown call that could have been rectified by instant replay for MLB to implement any type of system. Hopefully for fans and for teams that won’t be the case.