MLB needs replay…instantly

7 08 2010

This post is in response to the Florida Marlins-Philadelphia Phillies game in Miami Thursday night in which third base umpire Bill Davidson erroneously called a fair ball foul. Worst of all, the call came in the bottom of the ninth inning when Florida’s Gaby Sanchez ripped a grounder down the third base line that almost assuredly would have brought home Hanley Ramirez from second base. The Marlins were temporarily denied a victory and they eventually lost 5-4 in 10 innings.

You can read about the call here. To make a long story short, Davidson argued that the ball somehow went foul as it skipped over third base even though replays afterward clearly showed the ball in fair territory before and after its hop over the bag. The Marlins announcing team lost it on-air when they watched the relays. The Marlins dugout blew up immediately after the call was made. Everybody lost it — except for the Phillies announcing team, which made a confusing argument that the ball was headed foul before it reached the bag and that the ball, obviously naive to the laws of physics, hit “something” on the dirt and landed back in fair territory. I think I got a B- in Physics my senior year of high school, so I’m no Isaac Newton. But I’m pretty sure that ball was fair the whole time.

Michael Wilbon pointed out yesterday on PTI that the game didn’t have huge significance since the Marlins aren’t in playoff contention. What he didn’t note is that the Phillies are in a pennant race, so their win, which shouldn’t have happened, could affect the Braves and the NL wildcard teams down the stretch. The Phillies won a game they never should have been able to win. It happened because MLB has been notoriously slow to warm to instant replay.

I understand the anti-replay argument but I don’t agree with it. Replay critics worry that baseball’s “human element” will be further eliminated because of technology. Fantastic, I say. Who knows how many baseball games have been screwed up over the decades because an umpire made an improper call. Human element is overrated and should be placed on the priority ladder below Getting The Call Correct.

Another replay critic argument is that it’ll slow down games. This is one with which every baseball fan can have some fun. Batters step out of the box after every pitch to make sure their gloves are tight and their shoelaces are straight. Many pitchers take 30 or so seconds between throws so that they can litter the mound’s perimeter with their tobacco juice. Managers go to the ‘pen after every batter in the sixth inning and beyond because they feel they have to do something to show they’re managing and earning their salary. All these situations — and more — can be reigned in to shave the time off a game that supposedly one or two key replays in a ballgame would add.

Baseball is an outstanding game but there’s no reason it shouldn’t look to improve. While the length of games is a serious problem that needs to be corrected, there should be a higher prioritization for ensuring that on-field calls are the right ones being made. The technology is there, ready to be used. MLB is arrogant to look the other way.

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