Siberian Baseball

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Well, it's here. No what?

It's official - instant replay has officially arrived for Major League Baseball. How long before these clowns screw something up?

From now on, home run calls -- and only home run calls -- can be reviewed to determine whether or not a ball was over the fence, fair or foul, or subject to fan interference.

Which is precisely where the command center comes in. When an umpire crew chief decides that a potential home run might benefit from a peek at instant replay, he will head to a replay kiosk constructed in a separate location at every ballpark. There, the crew chief will communicate with one of MLB Advanced Media's replay engineers, who will guide him through as many available replay angles as he desires.


OK, let's see if I have this right:

* In a game criticized for being "too slow" they are now going to allow umpires to stop play and review video.

* That video won't be on site - instead, it will come from a tech compound several states away.

* The league itself isn't very sure that they are up to the task.

Phenomenal.

"It needs to be instantaneous," said Bob Bowman, president and CEO of MLB.com, a subsidiary of MLB Advanced Media. "Taking a live feed and redistributing that is one thing, but taking a live feed, cutting it, slicing it, dicing it and sending it back to the park so an umpire can see it -- all in a relatively short period of time -- is frankly a skill set that we needed to develop."

Points for honesty, not so much for practicality.

I'll be a good soldier here and wait and see what happens, but several things trouble me:

* The league says this is it as far as replay goes. That's a load of crap. This is as far as it goes until they can prop it up as a successful venture. Then, they will use it as a test case to expand "just to close tags" or "just as long as it puts the Yankees and/or Red Sox into the playoffs.

* This isn't football - time matters in baseball. Part of the excitement of a late-inning homer in a close game (especially in October) is knowing that the other team's closer isn't ready to go yet. Sure, managers stall and the poor sap on the mound preens and waits and tries to give the bullpen more time, but eventually they have to pitch after giving up a backbreaking bomb. MLB hopes the replay process will take 2 1/2 minutes - how long do you think Mo Rivera needs to get ready? What about Bobby Jenks?

* I swear that I'm not going to play the "tradition" card here. I'm not that breed of fan who tries to place the honor of the game above all else. But again, this isn't football. Teams, players and fans have been at the mercy of the umpires for as long as there have been games. By now, it's part of the strategy - it's worth a manager's time to brush up on the evening's plate umpire, just as it's worth their time to brush up on the starting pitcher. Bottom line, the umps have been 300 feet away since the 1880s - a few missed calls weren't the end of the world.

* If the replays are coming from the networks, good luck. Even with the advent of HD, it's not very easy to see where the ball is or where it's going. They zoom and pan and try to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but it's really never that great. I have a bad feeling that there will be a day in the near future that will feature two umpires squinting at the screen, knowing that they stopped the game and that the clock is ticking and will have the same thought, "Crap, I can't see a damn thing."

* Out of every time that you have seen the announcers break down a fair/foul call, how many of those have fallen into the "definitive proof" category? Sixty percent? Sixty five?

* I don't trust the commissioner. I think he's an idiot caretaker. There, I said it.

(Image taken for Siberian Baseball)

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2 Comments:

  • Very interesting. I'm kind of the opposite side of the ledger here. Granted, I don't trust Bud Selig any farther than I can throw him either and the particular process used by MLB that you've pointed out doesn't necessarily make the most sense and can definitely be improved, but at least conceptually, I'm 110% in favor of instant replay for home run calls/foul balls and other calls that are "black and white" in nature. I actually think MLB umpires are pretty good overall (especially compared to NBA and college basketball refs - talk about gawd awful), yet I still believe that getting those crucial calls correct vastly outweigh any time factors. There are going to be instances where it's hard to tell whether a ball is in or out even with replay - just as there are instances in football where it's hard to tell whether a receiver caught a ball or not - but that doesn't mean that replay can't be helpful the vast majority. Honestly, I've found most of the close home run/foul ball calls are relatively clear when you see them on replay, so if it makes that much of a difference, I see no reason why replay can't be used. I think a lot of critics of replay are concerned about future "scope creep" - that replay will eventually expanded to safe/not safe calls or, even worse, balls and strikes. Again, I understand and agree with the sentiment that Bud Selig is an idiot, but similar scope creep concerns were raised for football and basketball and those concerns have never come to fruition after several years of replay being employed in those sports.

    Above all, I'm just one of those people that adamantly and unequivocally believes that human errors by umpires and refs are NOT "part of the game". The game should be determined by the athletes on the field of play to maximum extent possible and if there are tools in place that can minimize the impact of human error on black-and-white calls (again, I completely agree that replay should never be used for subjective calls such as balls and strikes), then that vastly outweighs any concerns about time, how the umpires feel about it, tradition, etc. Maybe it's the lawyer in me, but the "it takes too much time" argument against replay in all of the sports has always irked me - certainly, you don't want umpires taking an hour to figure out a home run call, but honestly, if your team is in the World Series (or a pennant race in September) and winning or losing comes down to that, getting the call right with the best evidence that the umps have available is exponentially more important than any time concerns. I'm more than willing to wait for the right call as opposed to rushing along with the wrong call for the sake of speed.

    By OpenID frankthetank, At Thursday, August 28, 2008 11:48:00 AM  

  • See, the human element is a major part of baseball - moreso than the other sports mentioned - and that's why scope creep has me worried.

    It's to the point that current video games "miss" borderline calls now, forcing you to react in a more realistic way, where if it's close, you're swinging.

    There are just too many other variables in play with baseball - primarily the timing issue for the bullpen - for this to seem like a good idea.

    For the majority of home run calls, there's no doubt about it. It just seems unnecessary and if the league had such a problem with home run call/no calls, they should have added another ump or two in the outfield before this.

    By Blogger Minneapolis Red Sox, At Thursday, August 28, 2008 11:59:00 AM  

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