MLB Gives Instant Replay A Look

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - November 14, 2007
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Last week Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president for MLB operations in the commissioner’s office, told ESPN that “We have glacier-like movement in baseball ...” In many ways, this resistance to change has benefited the game - saving it from going through the almost yearly rule change confusion that seems to constantly surround the NFL.

By maintaining the status quo, baseball, a game indelibly tied to its past and statistics, remains the only sport where historical comparisons can be made and where the accomplishments of Walter Johnson do not lose merit when compared to those of Roger Clemens. Unfortunately, because of this slow-to-act-or-react system, the league has at times suffered from poor decisions and wallowed in bad behavior. The most recent example being the decade-long use of performance-enhancing drugs that owners and the league were either unable or unwilling to correct.

Even though the general managers voted 25-5 in favor of using instant replay to make a limited number of calls, it still faces a tough upward climb as it has to be approved by both players’ and umpires’ unions, the owners and the one guy who has stubbornly resisted the change - commissioner Bud Selig.

Selig has said on many occasions that he does not favor the use of replay, fearing that delays would ruin the tempo of the game. Although he has said he will listen to the idea, most of the time the words are filtered through tonal qualities and facial remarks that suggest his mind is already made up and that he is just humoring supporters.

The commissioner’s concern about lengthening already long Major League Baseball games has merit. In a nation addicted to instant gratification, baseball has been seen as a game that moves too slowly and takes too long to play, and any stop of action is not going to help that opinion. But what Selig fails to realize is that by the very nature of the game, baseball is better suited for the use of replay than any other sport.

One of the problems the NFL and college football have with their replay systems is the crowded nature of their respective games. Replay officials must not only determine the result of quick-moving plays, but must also try to see around, under and between massive, piled

bodies. Baseball is a very spacial game where the action, while even faster than the NFL in respect to a thrown or batted ball, happens within large, open spaces unencumbered by interference. This is especially true with the system that was voted on by GMs calling for replay use only to determine fan interference, fair or foul balls and home runs.

Another benefit of baseball replay is the easy use of cameras. Whereas football replay officials must sort through numerous camera angles, the single camera behind home plate is enough to cover home plate, both foul lines and first and third bases. Add in the center field and two side positions, and it takes only four cameras in baseball to do the same job that may require double that number for the NFL.

While starting off slowly is a good idea for a plan that lacks the commissioner’s support, replay in baseball is needed and should be expanded as other plays can be added without lengthening the game.

Balls and strikes are out. Replay would only make questionable calls more controversial, since the strike zone is different for each player, and without a perfectly centered shot of home plate no truly accurate call could be made. Close plays at first base are a no-brainer, and

a correct call can be made before the pitcher is even ready for the next batter. Cleaning up phantom tags at second while turning double plays and eliminating questions about successful stolen bases would also be appropriate additions.

Then there is the most critical area - home plate. No call is more important than those made at home plate, where one mistake can result in changing the outcome of the game. Just ask San Diego Padres fans. Whether or not the replay would have shown conclusive evidence that Matt Holliday was safe or not is meaningless now, but both teams deserved a definitive answer. A call the other way would not just have changed the fortunes of these two teams, but also those of Philadelphia and Arizona, who were swept by the Rocks on their way to the World Series.

A Look Back.

Unhappy with overpaid football players? Blame the Allegheny Athletic Association. Near the turn of the century, football became a major attraction for local athletic clubs in the Northeast. Allegheny’s rival was the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, and prior to their 1892 game, AAA decided not to leave the game to chance. The association paid former Yale All-American William “Pudge”

Heffelfinger $500 to play in the game, making him the first professional football player. The plan worked. Heffelfinger picked up a PAC fumble and

returned it 35 yards for a touch-down. Allegheny won 4-0. Needless to say, scoring rules have changed a bit in 115 years.

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