Improved technology, blown calls make instant replay the right move for major leagues

It's impossible to pinpoint exactly when baseball commissioner Bud Selig got religion on the expansion of video replay to correct faulty umpiring decisions, but it's not so hard to pick the watershed moment in the long-running replay debate.

There have been blown calls for as long as there have been bats and balls, but it was on June 2, 2010, that it became almost impossible to make a legitimate case against using the technology already available in every major league ballpark to rectify what — in that instance — was a historic injustice.

Armando Galarraga would have become the 21st in baseball history to pitch a perfect game if umpire Jim Joyce had not badly missed the call that should have resulted in the final out.

No, it wasn't the first egregious umpiring mistake in history. Orioles fans probably consider the infamous Jeffrey Maier incident in the 1996 American League Championship Series to be just as ignominious and just as correctable. But the national attention paid to the Galarraga-Joyce incident and the poignant aftermath definitely pushed public sentiment in the direction that eventually led to the announcement Thursday that baseball will likely expand the use of replay next year.

That's good news, even for those of us purists who used to believe that the human element was more important to baseball than ensuring the integrity of the outcome. The technology is just too good and too available to ignore any longer.

When Rich Garcia failed to call fan interference on Derek Jeter's deflected home run in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, there was plenty of photographic and video evidence that he had made a mistake that might have cost the Orioles a chance to play in the World Series. The same goes for the infamous call by Don Denkinger that influenced the outcome of Game 6 in the 1985 Fall Classic.

It took the explosion of technology to make video review practical and the proliferation of highlights on all forms of new media to make it all but imperative.

"I think it's going to make the games a little longer, but if you can get calls in crucial situations right, that's what we all want," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "Me, I'm a person who just always thought baseball was [subject to] human error anyway, but I think with how technology has advanced, people want the calls right nowadays. So, whatever they are trying to do to help out the game, I'm all for it."

The new system has not been finalized and must be approved by the players and umpires unions. Managers would get to challenge one decision during the first six innings of a game and get two more challenges from the seventh inning on. Pretty much everything that could be corrected by video replay will be reviewable except ball and strike calls.

Support for the expansion has been widespread, in part because of the popular but unproven notion that the number of incorrect calls has increased in recent years.

"It does feel like there have been more pivotal moments changing the outcome of games, not necessarily in the right way," Orioles pitcher Jason Hammel said. "I think it will definitely help. I've heard some of the guys in here talking about the unusual amount of questionable calls. Guys are always going to complain about the umpires, and the umpires are always going to complain about the guys complaining about them, so it is what it is. But I think a little more expanded replay will help."

Manager Buck Showalter, who has been on the wrong end of some very frustrating calls this season, has long been a proponent of expanded replay, but he isn't sure that the number of bad calls has increased in recent years.

"That's the million-dollar question," he said. "The technology shows us so much. I'll bet you there are not more missed calls. I may be wrong, but I just think they get blown up so much."

If there is a downside to expanded replay, it is that the ability to quickly reverse bad calls at the request of managers likely will take some of the character out of the game. There will be fewer angry arguments and, presumably, very few ejections related to umpiring disputes. For better or worse, that has always been part of the on-field entertainment, especially during the glory years here in Baltimore when Earl Weaver's on-field antics were the stuff of legend.

That's a tradeoff that Major League Baseball and its fans are finally willing to make.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

 

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