To err is human, to evolve divine: The argument for efficient replay in sports

Someone once said the best officials are the ones we don’t know by name. That’s because one mistake, one glaring error, one moment of indecision can alter a game, a series or perhaps even a season. Officiating is a thankless profession.

Think back to some of the more memorable questionable calls in history: the Ed Armbrister-Carlton Fisk catcher’s interference call, the Tuck Rule, Scottie Pippen’s ‘foul’ on Hubert Davis, the Immaculate Reception, Jeffrey Maier reaching over the wall to give the Yankees a home run that wasn’t, Colorado’s fifth down, basically any foul called on whoever was covering Michael Jordan in crunch time. The list is endless.

The human element and corresponding potential for error in judgment has always been a part of sports. Yet in the past month, the clamor for more effective officiating has been more resounding than ever. Southeastern Conference referees were reprimanded, then suspended, for subsequent incorrect calls in the LSU-Georgia and Florida-Arkansas games. In both cases, questionable decisions may have swayed the outcomes and possibly the college football season as a whole.

tim-mccleland-yankees-angels-callIn Major League Baseball, the bad calls continue on like clowns piling out of a circus car. We have seen fair balls being called foul, safe runners being called out and vice versa. Then came Tim McClelland’s double whammy in Game 4 of the ALCS. First he incorrectly called Nick Swisher out for leaving third base early on a sacrifice fly, then he failed to correctly call out Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano when both runners were clearly off the bag as Mike Napoli tagged them out.

After making what he knew was the wrong call, McLelland stood in foul territory, mouth agape, as if he were in an argument with his girlfriend he knew he had lost, yet refused to change his mind. Only this time 65,000 people were on her side.

McClelland is one of the baseball’s most respected officials, having worked in the sport for over twenty-five years. He made a mistake. So did the SEC referees. So has Tim Donaghy. So has Ed Hochuli. So has Joey Crawford. So have you and I. To err is human. But baseball does not allow for indecision. Like a time share salesman refusing to take no for an answer, an official’s ruling is generally final, no matter how tomato red the manager’s face might turn in disagreement.

Baseball purists argue that replay will lengthen a game fans already complain is too long. Replay thumbs its nose at tradition and demeans the umpire’s authority. Officials claim they don’t want to submit their referees to the embarrassment of making a bad call but don’t you think McLellan would prefer that to the backlash he’s receiving now? Personally, if tradition means repeatedly littering the game with incorrect calls, then they can have the sport.

Most fans want replay, but it’s not like anybody’s watching baseball anyway. This year’s League Championship Series featured teams from three of the country’s most populous markets, yet playoff baseball is still getting lower television ratings than mid-season college football.

instant-replay-officialsBaseball desperately needs instant replay not only to police itself, but also to repair its image. In fact, baseball and its commissioner should champion the cause. The NBA employs instant replay on last second shots and it has worked flawlessly. The NFL and college football have gradually instituted replay to the sport’s benefit. These systems are still imperfect with some calls reviewable and others not, or some calls that can’t be correctly determined based on the position of the camera, but for the most part countless missed calls have been averted since replay’s inception.

Fifty years from now, sports fans may look back on the day we relied on humans to make simple judgment calls and laugh thinking about how prehistoric we were. Leather helmets, wooden rackets and Astroturf have all fallen by the wayside as people realized their time had come. So should a strict reliance on human judgment. Just because we’ve always done it that way is no longer a valid excuse. Baseball needs to rid itself of its fear of change.tim-mclelland

By no means am I suggesting that we entirely automate officiating. Certain calls require human judgment and always will. But other calls are cut and dry, particularly in baseball. A runner is either safe or out. A ball is either fair or foul. There is no room for error. It’s bad for the sport. Any changes should be implemented piecemeal. The last thing baseball needs is more bad decisions.

Aside from presiding over his sport, the objective of any commissioner should be to leave the sport better than he found it. If Bud Selig wants to be remembered for anything other than presiding over the steroid era, he should champion the cause to have baseball evolve. It could serve as the last saving grace to his regime.

College and professional sports have a dilemma, but an easily resolved one. They can either continue down their slippery slope, running the risk that a questionable call will one day affect a game on the grandest stage or they can put their heads together and determine how replay can improve their games. Change is necessary to guarantee we’re talking about the action on the field and not the poor decisions off it.

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24 Replies to “To err is human, to evolve divine: The argument for efficient replay in sports”

  1. There were three bogus calls that helped UF beat Arkansas, then an obvious fumble in the MSU game. There appears to be a deliberate attempt to make favorable calls for the darling teams from the big conferences so they can get that magical matchup of undefeated teams. Let’s face it, UF/LSU with no losses made some big time ratings! Texas gets a few against OU! UF and Alabama get a few to keep them undefeated so they can have a #1 vs #2 showdown in Atlanta.

  2. Dan-O…

    That’s kind of why I brought up the Jordan comparison. The better teams will tend to get the calls over time… whether that’s just or not.

    Florida certainly benefited from calls in the Arkansas game. They may have won regardless or they may not have.

    But those SEC referees were openly suspended for the first time in conference history.

    I’m sure baseball and college football will both look at how to better judge their sports in the off-season.

  3. Chris

    About the only thing that baseball has done correctly in terms of its evolution is seen from the social standpoint. As to it evolving and using technology . Well that’s like trying to reinvent the wheel. Selig and his minions are too dumb to realize that they need instant replay amongst other things to enhance the game. Far too often they’ve made mistakes that’ve proved costly for a team. And then the purists out point to the fact that the human element makes the game all the more appealing. So does ‘taking a dump’ at once a day. And that’s done for health reasons. As to baseball and their infinite stupidity , who knows ?

    My out-takes on the NFL weekend .

    When Is The Wildcat Offense Not A Wildcat At All ? Pardon Me But You’ve Been Punk’d !

    Alan Parkins

  4. I don’t understand why Selig doesn’t invite in a panel of the best and smartest people to advise him on this matter. It makes absolutely no sense.

    It has me hoping a bad call is made in this here World Series to get the ball rolling.

  5. The challenge system in tennis has worked successfully. At first, I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t think that one call could affect the outcome of a match. But as a player, when you have doubts about the efficiency of the officials, it is hard to concentrate. And thinking that you were the victim of a bad call can change your mindset tremendously. Even though there are other officials on a baseball field, I guess no one else could offer his opinion on the calls in question. And don’t even talk to me about Joey Crawford. You are right. When a fan knows an official’s name, that is never good!

  6. Dan…

    I was actually working Saturday night so I wasn’t able to watch the Gator game. I plan on watching it on replay.

    I did see the replay of Doe running into the end zone and it looked like the ball was out before he crossed the plane.

    I also saw the Bama kid take off his helmet in celebration. If that’s the case and time was still on the clock, then he should have been penalized.

    Sounds like both Mullen and Kiffin had valid cases. SEC officials have had a rough season.

  7. Elizabeth… That Joey Crawford grudge with Tim Duncan was ridiculous.

    I like the Cyclops or Hawkeye in tennis but I just wonder, is it 100% effective? And why is it animated? Are you totally positive that that computer replay is without a doubt a recreated image of the ball?

  8. Sorry, Chris, but I’m going to be the Luddite in the room. While (as you know) I never met a gadget I didn’t like, I think that the argument about instant replay and baseball is akin to the tail wagging the dog. The problem with baseball is that the home audience is treated to too many camera angles, too many instant replays and way too much slo-mo.

    I contend that one of the reasons why people enjoy baseball is to play umpire themselves and display a little righteous indignation when they disagree with a call on the field. The fact that we can find out precisely whether or not C.B. Bucknor got it right on those plays at first didn’t add much to our enjoyment of the game, nor did it illustrate that anything has changed about umpiring in the last century or so.

    And by the way, umpires also suck at calling balls and strikes. Should we get rid of ’em for that, too? Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine staked their entire careers on gaming umpires and expanding umpires’ strike zones; does that make them lesser pitchers? I say no.

    Since I only give a minor shit about basketball and football, whatever they do is fine by me. Maybe the NFL will get rid of a few of those umpires that good quarterbacks know how to use as picks. But screw with baseball and I might have to find a new sport of choice, like curling or snooker or Australian rules football.

  9. Chris

    I don’t know whether or not you’ve seen the documentary ‘ The Smartest Guys In The Room’ ? It’s based on the Enron fiasco. Well in a similar sort of vein having guys in the same room who are smarter than the hierarchy of MLB would be akin to that. As it would show them as to how dumb they really are .

    Bud Selig and his second in command , Bob DuPuy don’t want to be seen or known as complete buffoons.,

    I hear that former MLPA union rep Donald Fehr , will receive in excess of $11.5 million in bonus and pay ?

    My NFL weekend outtakes and faux pas .

    When Is The Wildcat Offense Not A Wildcat ? Pardon Me But You’ve Been Punk’d …..

    Alan Parkins

  10. Unc…. So speaketh the purist.

    We can no longer apologize for the sport, man. Do you mean to tell me that you weren’t in the slightest bit upset when the umpire called that fair ball foul in the Yanks-Twins game? Not only did the ball land in fair territory but it hit the fielder’s glove! The only reason that McLelland double-gaffe didn’t receive MORE attention is that we’re becoming numb to a sport that no longer knows how to officiate itself.

    Look, by no means am I suggesting baseball get rid of the human element of officiating. But if a runner is safe, he’s safe. The Sox got jobbed on TWO tags that Euk made at first base this post-season, yet he was pulled off the bag so the umpire ASSUMED he was safe. Don’t tell me you don’t throw your popcorn at the screen and wished that the ump had gotten those calls right. Euk should have been rewarded for making those plays.

    If we have the technology, we can rebuild the sport… better, stronger, faster. Just safe/out and fair/foul calls, man.

    We’ll still allow balls and strikes to be botched so you purists will still tune in.

  11. Chris

    Give Fehr his due as he could have been getting fashion tips from the Bulls’ Joakim Noah. You remember on NBA draft day ? What a mess !

    Human element or not , MLB knows that something needs to be done. But they seemingly want to be seen as the last bastion of purity when it comes to sports.

    I see that Selig has implicit faith in the return of McGwire to the game ? Only he could make the statement that he feels McGwire is an upstanding individual. WTF ?

    Dropped this on the Iowa Hawkeyes’ Kirk Ferentz.

    Kirk Ferentz Come On Down The Price Is Right ………….

    Alan Parkins

  12. I remember that seersucker suit and hairdo. Noah marches to the beat of a different drummer, but he also had two national championships to show for it.

    I’m trying to think of a comparison of McGwire returning to the game in a semi-management capacity.

    Could a player in either the NFL or NBA that has been blacklisted for alleged drug use come back into the game as a coach without question?

  13. Chris

    And when there are idiots such as Gammons defending Selig. You can well understand why many of us question of both of their judgments with regard to the integrity of the game.

    As for Selig’s belief that in all of the four major sports MLB has the most stringent drug policy and enforcement. Well that’s a damn joke to begin with ! It’s about as stringent and as forceful as having a polygamist in a room filled young teenage girls all looking to get married. The fact that polygamy is now banned in certain parts of the country ain’t gonna stop what we already know is going on.

    Selig and DuPuy are douche-bags !

    I’ve more implicit faith in Goodell and Stern to a certain extent than I do in Selig or DuPuy. Can’t say the same about whoever is running the NHL. Whomever that might be ? That game is about as exciting to watch for me , as seeing a picture of Rosie O’Donnell naked . Oh did I just say that ? Well, I never ! What will the world think of me now ?

    Dropped my first NBA preseason piece .

    Give Charles Barkley His Due He Knows What He Knows And He’ll Always Be Opinionated Whether You Like Him Or Not ………….

    Alan Parkins

  14. Chris

    It’s early days yet concerning the Wizards . Let’s see how they’ll fare once they get into the heart of the NBA season. As we all know that most teams don’t hit their stride until after Christmas , as it is.

    The Lakers are looking good against the Clippers. Pity though that Blake Griffin isn’t gracing us with his presence. An innocuous dunk and he’s out for five or six weeks with a broken patella ?

    Glad that they’ve pressed charges against the alleged assailant who stabbed the Huskies’ player Jasper Howard to death ! A needless act of violence and this kid loses his life over absolutely nothing.

    Alan Parkins

  15. Al… I’m a big Stern fan. While he had a lot to work with, I think he still did the most for any sport in modern history other than maybe Rozelle.

    The Wiz have talent. Don’t sleep on ’em. In a mediocre Eastern Conference, if they keep their heads on straight and play with a grudge on their shoulder, they could do some damage.

    Then again, you might be right… they were only playing the Mavs.

  16. Chris

    The ‘cream always rises to the top’ as they say. The Eastern Conference while good , doesn’t as such stack up against their counterparts in the West .

    But while the Wizards look good on paper .It’ll be up to the likes of their ‘big three’ in Arenas , Butler and Jamison to really prove how good they potentially can be.

    I don’t know whether or not you caught ESPN’s new scheduled series of filmed documentaries entitled ’30 for 30′ last night ? But they did a piece on the Ali-Holmes’ bout from 1980. It was a great piece to watch.

    In light of that I did the following piece about the fight itself.

    The Fight To Remember Or Perhaps Not ……….

    Below is a transcript of what I’ve written as an article.

    “One of the great tragedies of the modern sporting arena, was to witness the downward spiral of the boxing career of Muhammad Ali . We all knew that he fought way past his prime and if anything had four or five fights too many. Call it the ‘Pride And The Passion ,The Agony Of Shame And Defeat’ . But nothing to my mind epitomized that more than when Ali fought Larry Holmes (69-6-1, 44KO’s) for the WBC heavyweight title in October of 1980 .

    As and when you’re ready, I’ll look forward to reading your comments.

    Alan Parkins

  17. Chris

    For me Stern is more the consummate businessman , more than anything else. He’s fully aware as to what the consumers and his corporate sponsors want. And he and the NBA do their very best to comply with their requests. How else is that they more any other of the ‘four major professional sports ‘ are essentially more globally recognized across the planet ?

    I’m not necessarily sleeping on the Wizards but as I’d alluded to earlier. If the likes of Arenas, Butler , Jamison and Miller aren’t at the top of their game. Then I for one, don’t expect them to fare all that well. They’re no more than a 40 to 50 win team at best, if that. The lower number may well be enough for them to squeak on in to the playoffs. And then from there who knows ?

    I’d dropped this piece on the Ali-Holmes’ fight that’d taken place at Caesar’s Palace in October of 1980. ESPN on their documentary series ’30 for 30′ did a piece on the bout and its aftermath. The series in effect is being done to commemorate their thirtieth anniversary as a cable broadcast outlet.

    The Fight To Remember Or Perhaps Not …..

    Not entirely happy at present having just read the story of the young teen who’d been sexually assaulted in Richmond , California. While she was being attacked on school property after a high school dance. There were witnesses who edged on her assailants to commit this horrendous attack. No one at the time even bothered to call ‘911’. And what is even more regrettable in this instance is the fact that security had been provided on the campus. But they were told to leave early by someone in authority at the school. I smell a lawsuit in the making ! Police were on scene but they were not made aware of the incident at its offing.

    Courtesy of CNN Justice ;

    Police: As many as 20 present at gang rape outside school dance

    Richmond, California (CNN) — Investigators say as many as 20 people were involved in or stood and watched the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside a California high school homecoming dance Saturday night.

    Police posted a $20,000 reward Tuesday for anyone who comes to them with information that helps arrest and convict those involved in what authorities describe as a 2½-hour assault on the Richmond High School campus in suburban San Francisco.

    Two teenage suspects have been jailed, but more arrests, as many as 20 total, are expected, according to a police detective.

    “We will be making arrests continually as we develop probable cause,” said Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan. “With this number of people implicated in the incident we’re going to be making arrests on an ongoing basis.”

    As many as 10 people were involved in the assault in a dimly lighted back alley at the school, while another 10 people watched without calling 911 to report it, police said.

    A 1999 California law makes it illegal not to report a witnessed crime against a child, but the law applies only to children 14 and under.

    “We do not have the ability to arrest people who witnessed the crime and did nothing,” Gagan said. “The law can be very rigid. We don’t have the authority to make an arrest.”

    Charles Ramsey, a member of the Richmond school board, said the school district bears some responsibility for the attack. School administrators and police apparently weren’t watching the area as they should have, Ramsey said.

    How ‘f_cked up’ is this country now becoming ?

    Alan Parkins

  18. Al… I’ve been taping those 30 by 30 specials. As usual, ESPN does a stand up job.

    I fell asleep to both the USFL and Muhammad Ali ones but will get around to watching them both again.

    They looked great and the Ali one was moving to say the least.

  19. This is a million posts ago, but here goes:

    If I don’t have a chance to occasionally throw my popcorn at the screen, then I’m not enjoying the game! Yes, C.B. Bucknor robbed the Sox twice, but the calls really do even out in the end (maybe not that end in particular, but in the big cosmic end that keeps the earth turning). Getting one called your way is a guilty pleasure, just like getting screwed over is annoying as hell. It’s just all part of the game.

    If you reduce baseball to just the between-the-lines action, then it takes something away from the game. One of the reasons why baseball is fun is because all kinds of people-oriented things happen. Milton Bradley has another conniption fit. Roger attempts to impale Piazza. Rice jumps in the stands and starts beating on a Yankee fan. Screwy ump calls and the subsequent reactions are part of it too, IMHO.

  20. All I’m saying, Unc, is if I’m going to throw my popcorn at the tube, I’d rather it be because the Sox sucked, underachieved, or simply got outplayed, not because they got jobbed by a guy who happened to be out of position to make the right call.

    Blown decisions would significantly even out if they were all corrected by a second look.

    Actually, in a recent discussion with a friend, the best argument I heard AGAINST instant replay in baseball is that we would no longer be treated to managers rushing onto the field to get in the umpires face after a call.

    So maybe it’s the blood pressure medication manufacturers who have Selig in their pocket.

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