It's time for baseball to go to the replay

The Baltimore Sun

Whenever there's a dastardly bad call, I don't blame the umpire. I don't blame the stadium architects for their funky nooks that require funkier rules. I don't blame a player for blocking the ump's view or even a fan for interfering with the field of play.

When the call is wrong and it decides a game, the "L" should hang from Bud Selig's neck like a 100-pound scarlet letter.

It really is amazing that we're still debating instant replay in baseball. Every other sport - from the NFL and NBA to tennis and hockey - has used technology to make sure their rulings are accurate, and yet baseball has dug its spikes into the dirt for years, resisting change and dismissing the added value of instant replay.

Not that Orioles fans needed a single other morsel of evidence after the 1996 postseason, but they saw again Friday night how instant replay might affect their team. Trailing the Rangers 3-0, the Orioles had the bases loaded in the seventh when a Texas pitch went all the way to the backstop. Chris Gomez sprinted from third and clearly beat the tag. He was called out, and even plate umpire Brian Knight acknowledged later that he blew the call.

Moments later, Nick Markakis hit a double that would've tied the game. This comes less than a week after Melvin Mora was thrown out at the plate in the ninth inning against the Angels on another bad call. What should have tied the game, instead, ended it.

Baseball is the only sport that sees no problem in a fan sitting in his boxers on a stained futon a thousand miles away from the ballpark being able to make a better call than its paid umpire standing 12 inches from the action. For that matter, a million fans - anyone who subscribes to basic cable around here - are equipped to make a better call than the four-person umpire crew on any given play.

Feel free to forward all complaints to Selig's office.

Instant replay is as divisive a topic as baseball's saintly debate table has seen in the past decade. For instant replay to become a reality, baseball's general managers would have to agree, followed by the playing rules committee and then the owners. The players union and commissioner's office would have to sign off, too. (Last fall, general managers discussed the topic but took no action. Two years ago, their vote to explore the topic was split, 15-15.)

But make no mistake, even if everyone were on board, Selig has made it clear that on this topic, he feels the status quo is the way to go. All of baseball could be behind a sensible and limited replay plan, but without a nod from Bud, they're just spinning their wheels.

Selig says he likes the human component and trusts his umpires. Which is fine. No one is proposing an elimination of the human element or advocating the addition of robots or lasers propped up behind the catcher. We want the same thing the umps want - the right calls - and to ensure that, you have to occasionally consult the video.

Every day of the week, the umps are the most consistent performers at the ballpark. They make fewer mistakes than players, managers or broadcasters. While your shortstop might not be able to bat his weight and your catcher might struggle to bat the temperature, the umps perform at a solid .950 clip, according to last year's QuesTec computer numbers.

Contrary to the Selig line of reasoning, adding replay doesn't eliminate human discretion. In fact, it's the umps - not managers - who should have the discretion of when to consult video in the first place. Rules would ensure that only game-changing plays are subject to review - fan interference, questionable home runs, fair or foul, safe or out - and the umps could rely on a fifth official in the press box with a TV and a remote control to clear up uncertainties.

Opponents of replay seem to be concerned about tacking a minute or two onto the game time. Most replay decisions - like Mora's play at the plate last Sunday and Gomez's on Friday - are so blatant, they wouldn't require much more than 60 seconds. I have a hard time thinking baseball players, fans or officials wouldn't agree that we can sacrifice a couple of minutes to get the call right.

No umpire wants to stick with the wrong call, to return to his hotel bed knowing his bad call decided the outcome of a game. Rich Garcia, an umpire supervisor for Major League Baseball, is still bothered by failing to spot Jeffrey Maier's fan interference in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series.

Some part of Selig must realize that sooner or later, instant replay will become a part of baseball, and it would behoove him to admit this now and institute replay on his terms. Instead, you get the feeling that it will take a faux pas on a grand stage - a World Series determined by a single disputable call. Why wait for disaster to prompt change?

Some competitions should be left entirely up to discretion - figure skating, Food Network cooking challenges. Not baseball. There should be no guesswork or finger-crossing when you're deciding a hit or a run or an out. Even if you need some help, you should be right.

It's the umpire's goal. It's the fan's expectation. And it should be part of baseball's agenda.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Points after -- Rick Maese

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