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Patrick Hruby

Play it Again, MLB?

The Atlantic Sports Roundtable on instant replay in baseball

The Atlantic online

In this week's Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we discuss instant replay in baseball. How much is too much?

Jake Simpson: ... Baseball has lagged woefully behind other North American sports leagues in stepping into the 21st century and adopting a comprehensive replay system. The NFL's current format has been in place since 1999, and NBA officials routinely review objective calls in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. But as of now, blatant umpire screwups like the one that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game in 2011 cannot be reviewed, even if television viewers at home see immediately (and usually repeatedly) that the call is wrong.

The umpire who messed up Galarraga's historic moment, veteran Jim Joyce, was actually on the third-base bag in the waning moments of Game 3 and made the obstruction ruling that ended the game, a gutsy and ultimately correct call. But when umps like Joyce do "kick the shit" out of a call, replay must exist to protect the integrity of the game and save the men in blue from Don Denkinger's fate. Thank goodness it's coming next season ...

Hampton Stevens: ... Purists might argue that instant replay will take away some of what make the game unique. Maybe. But unique isn't always good. My problem with replay is that it doesn't go far enough. What bugs me about the new system is that it's left up to managerial discretion. Like the NFL with its silly red flags, it will be left up to a manager to decide which possibly blown call needs to be challenged. Managers will be allowed one challenge in the first six innings and two more from the seventh to the end of the game. Dumb. Jake, you mentioned the missed call that ruined Galarraga's potential perfecto. Even if the new replay system had been in place, it's easy to imagine a situation where Jim Leyland would have had no challenges left by the ninth. The bad call might still have stood. Why go there? If we have the technology to eliminate bad calls, let's eliminate them. Every single call on the field should be reviewed, every time.

That means every call—including (gasp!) balls and strikes. It's just absurd that the most fundamental play in the game is always left up to interpretation. Baseball’s official rules clearly state what a strike zone is, yet every single umpire has a different one. No other sport tolerates this kind of murkiness. Why should baseball?

Patrick Hruby: ... subjecting balls and strikes to replay is a terrible idea. They are—and need to be—judgment calls. Same as holding in football, or shooting fouls in basketball. Unlike the lines on a tennis court, batters and pitchers come in different sizes with different stances and varying stuff; strike zone rules are necessary guidelines, but can't be rigid absolutes. I mean, I suppose you could design, build and program a machine to make calls—but that machine would still be dealing with the aforementioned variation. We'd be left to argue about algorithms and parameters. Also, we wouldn't have this.

Look, I don't want umpires to "kick the shit" out of calls, either. But some kinds of calls will always have shit-kicking potential. That's true in life, too. Both are fundamentally unfair. Sometimes. If either the Red Sox or the Cardinals end up losing this wild, wild series (and they just might) on a Galarragian botch, they'll be mad. Rightly so. But they'll also have to live with it. All of us do.

Read the complete article at The Atlantic online