Debating Instant Replay with my Uncle Alex

The e-mail string started simply enough.

I received an email from my Uncle Alex with nothing in the text.  The subject line read “Still like instant replay?”

Years ago, right on this very website, he and I debated the merits of adding instant replay to Major League Baseball.  My uncle, the consummate purist was against it, saying mistakes and human error were and always will be a part of the game.  I suggested his prehistoric way of thinking was no longer an excuse and that baseball needed to modernize.

instant replay cartoonThey did, sort of.  Since incorporating replay into the game, well, let’s just say things haven’t gone as planned.

The e-mail string continued.

SportsChump: At this point, I liken it to a guy who just bought a fancy new remote control and just can’t for the life of him figure out how to use it.

Uncle Alex: That’s the optimistic perspective.  The half-empty version is that he saw his neighbors all buy remotes for their TVs but then he found out you can’t use one with his brand.

SportsChump: Or perhaps he just wasn’t savvy enough to figure it out, which is a shame.  You think, after all these years, he’d be a smart and capable enough fellow.

Uncle Alex: Nice play on the metaphor for 4 am.   They have an uncanny knack for not overruling inconclusive plays and ruling the wrong way on obvious ones.  I think the next replay rule they should enact is to put it to an audience vote.  At least it will take less time.  🙂

SportsChump: I’ve been known to do my best work at 4 am. Can’t do fan votes, too much bias. They just need to find someone capable.  Let me know where to submit my resume.

World Series Cardinals Red Sox BaseballI knew it was only a matter of time before my uncle, a Red Sox fan, was affected by a call that would get him to change his tune.  Little did I know there would be TWO calls that sent good old Uncle Alex into a tizzy.  Both of those calls were reviewed and not reversed, one on a tag out, another on a foul ball called fair.  The only person less irate than my uncle was Red Sox Manager John Farrell whose team bore the brunt of the blown calls.

The e-mail string went on.

SportsChump: So…. after tonight’s call in the Sox game, can I assume you’re ready for another online debate?  Please say yes, please say yes.

Uncle Alex: I was wondering when you’d ask.  🙂  On another note – OK, it’s the same note – how could they fuck up that call? 

So without further ado, here goes Round Two of our instant replay debate.  Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water.

Baseball Instant ReplaySo, dearest Unc, what the hell is going on in Major League Baseball?   When we debated this nearly two years ago, we both agreed that instant replay would eventually happen with me thinking it was a necessity, you not so much.  But you weren’t necessarily against it because you thought they would screw it up, which they royally have.  You always said human error was part of the game.  Well, it’s more a part of the game now than it’s ever been.

Now that instant replay is here, I don’t think they scrap it.  That would be admitting defeat.  They’re going to have to figure out how to get this thing right.  How difficult can that be?  Where has our venerable commissioner, who has publicly proclaimed that he’s never sent an e-mail, been during all this?  Where is his commitment to get this right?  Perhaps he can’t work a VCR either considering his master plan to modernize the game has to date failed miserably.

Please tell us, now that instant replay is here to stay, what are we to do?

Uncle Alex: The interesting thing about instant replay is that often it’s not the replay itself that’s at fault; it’s still human error.  It’s just amazing that a bunch of people paid to analyze video look at the same thing that we do and miss it!  Just the other day, Yunel Escobar struck out on a 4-2 count.  That’s right; the MLB replay “experts” forgot the count when they reviewed a foul-ball call and mistakenly set it at 3-2.

Problems seem to fall into three categories:

Dean Anna out safe1.  Bad video feeds.  The mistaken ‘safe’ call on Dean Anna was because MLB claimed they didn’t have access to the camera everyone else in the world did.  Let’s hope that they fix that brilliant decision.

2. Rule interpretation.  The transfer rule has been subject to eyeball review for years, but slo-mo now makes an ambiguous rule even more difficult to enforce.  There have been several instances in which this controversial circumstance has arisen.  It’s also happened during ‘bang-bang’ plays at first base (when does the fielder control the ball?), which, BTW, was what threw Farrell into a tizzy and made him the first manager in history to be tossed for arguing replay.

3. Dipsh&ts at the helm.  The most frustrating circumstance is when umpires have the angles, the rule is clear, and they still screw it up. The Yunel Escobar call is a perfect example.   Another is a Markakis foul ball against the Red Sox that was obviously foul but called fair by replay umps.  There have been many of these.

And here is why I still contend that the way to fix replay is to dump it:

The Play Is Under Review– It’s not saving much time, if any.  Many of these replay calls take several minutes to determine, and that won’t change.

– Baseball stadiums are not football stadiums.  Football fields all have uniform measurements and no such things as ground rules.  Baseball stadiums are all different from each other, and expecting replay umps to be intimately familiar with each (and rule appropriately in a timely process) is asking a lot.

– It’s impersonal.  I’d rather have four umpires who are there make the call, not some video jockey in a studio in NYC.  Refs on the field make the call in football, and I think it makes a difference to look your arbiter in the eye.  I doubt the Escobar 4-2 boner would have happened if the umps at the game were responsible.

– Baseball rules were not written with literal interpretations in mind.  Some rules – the neighborhood play, for example – are even unwritten.  I know, I know:  the neighborhood play isn’t on the list.  So now we have some objective rules and other subjective ones?

markakis call missed– To continue on that tact:  As I stated a couple of years ago, it’s an imperfect sport that lives on the subjective judgment of umpires.   Taking the manager arguing with an umpire out of baseball is eliminating one of the most fun parts of the game.

But if your contention is true – that replay is here to stay – we fix it by curtailing it quite a bit.  Fair-or-foul, home runs, catch-or-trap, and maybe a few others.    And we put the onus on on-field umpires to make the call.   Otherwise I think the game gets damaged, not helped.

So, have I convinced you?  🙂

SportsChump: Here’s the thing.

All these gaffes are fixable.  And I don’t mean waiting another year until the owners meet in the off-season to discuss things over their Miller Lites and over-priced filet mignons.  We all knew this was going to be a work in progress so fix it on the fly and don’t apologize for doing so.  Fans will respect baseball more if they admit their mistakes and fix this thing now rather than continuing a full season with a laughably imperfect system.

Bad video feeds?  Let’s put more unobstructed cameras in the ballparks.  We’re talking about a billion dollar industry.  Cough up the coin to get it right.  Rule interpretations?  Who is it that doesn’t know the rules?  Umpires?  Managers?  Buy them all a rulebook and have them sleep with it under their pillow until they understand the difference between safe and out and fair and foul.  Dipshits at the helm?  Always has been, always will be.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.  Heck, the commissioner is the biggest dipshit of them all.

maddon argues umpireManagers arguing with umpires and unique baseball stadiums are two factors that make the game great but none of these are excuses for not being able to see whether chalk flies up when a ball hits the foul line or whether a catch is made.  These are black and white calls with no gray.  There is no legitimate reason the sport can’t get this right.  It’s broken now more than ever.  I say fix it.

Now, I ask, have I convinced YOU?

Uncle Alex: Sorry – still not convinced.  But I am resigned to it being part of the game, unless of course they don’t make it better, which IMHO requires major revisions to the current policy.  So here’s what I think:

– For the most part, they don’t need more cameras; they need to provide views from all of them and have someone with a post-simian IQ to interpret the video they produce.

– On-field umps should confer and if they develop a consensus that it’s the right call, it should go nowhere. THEY should decide if the tape should be reviewed or not.

– Consequently, the restrictions for manager objections should be eliminated.

Umps convene– If umps can’t come to a consensus, they should be given the feed and decide themselves.  This video control room crap is for the birds.  Why doesn’t the NFL do this?  Because it’s stupid.

– Any pretense that the review process will speed up ballgames should be dropped.

So, as Will Hunting asked, how do you like them apples?

SportsChump: The good news is that I feel we’re finally coming closer to some sort of agreement on the issue.  The bad news is that with the snail-like progress with which Major League Baseball is traveling to perfect its instant replay, we’ll probably be having another debate like this again soon.

I don’t think baseball boastfully sticking their chest out as the last major sport to institute replay is any sort of rebellion, as if they’re too good for it.  If they really wanted to make an impression, they should have done it better than everyone else by personally applying replay to the idiosyncrasies of their sport.

The problem is they haven’t yet and they look ridiculous for doing so.  Perhaps someone in the league office will read this open forum and invite us to sit down to figure out ways to get this thing right.

I’ll bring my old VCR remote just in case.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before Major League Baseball screws up another call?  I imagine imperfect replay should make for an interesting post-season.

Uncle Alex: Yes, I can’t wait to see the reaction if they mess up a pivotal postseason play.    I’ll leave you with this observation:  On tonight’s pregame show, the two play-by-play radio announcers for the Red Sox (Joe Castiglione and Dave O’Brien, both excellent play-callers) were lamenting the change in the home-plate collision rules – the conversation arising from a play during Sunday’s game.  Both agreed that umpires didn’t know how to interpret the rule, and catchers were equally confused – and that ultimately, the old rule was better.  I happen to agree with them, as I suspect most players do as well, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that baseball is a uniquely quirky sport, where many calls are made in the gray area between right and wrong.  Changing something with an expectation of a vastly improved resolution – like replay, the new collision rules, the short-lived transfer rule change, etc. – may lead to disappointing results.  If we must have replay, let’s be realistic about it, narrow its scope and keep the arbiters in the same zip code.   Or screw it – just let the video jocks call balls and strikes too.  That would be worth the price of admission.  🙂

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25 Replies to “Debating Instant Replay with my Uncle Alex”

  1. Many good points made on both sides. Clearly, baseball is a different animal when it comes to “rules.” Can you seriously have invasive, intensive replay in a sport where a ball can be thrown in the same spot and called a ball one time and a strike the next.? Or, that routinely each game we see the above-mentioned “neighborhood play?” No. Replay should be limited to home runs over the fence and/or whether or not a home run is fair or foul. And that home-plate collision nonsense must have made me so friggin’ mad that’s why I haven’t posted anything since. Anyway, great dialogue here.

  2. Instant replay in baseball ? All of a sudden baseball and its fans are acting as if this might be the biggest discovery in mankind , since the light bulb and the invention of the wheel . I would have thought Selig’s continued ignorance of the steroid cheats and the fact at the Minor League Level it’s still very much rampant would be far more important but I guess not .

    Michael Sam got his wish , with his being taken in the latter rounds of the draft by the St Louis Rams as part of daft class for 2014 ? Great for the NFL and for Sam in particular as he gets to fulfill a lifelong ambition and give some semblance of acceptance for those who disenfranchised because of bigotry . Yet the bigotry and hypocrisy still exists within the NFL beyond the actions of Incognito (link inset) .

    tophatal ………………..

  3. Thanks, Burnsy.

    I agree with you on the catcher rule.

    A play is made at the plate. The catcher is supposed to tag the runner out.

    Where the hell is he supposed to stand and await the throw?

    I do like instant replay on safe out calls. To me, those are still black and white areas. Bang bang plays at second should still be simple enough for umps to call without the use of replay but if they can’t get it right, why not allow the managers to protest? If anything, those calls have been blown the most for years.

  4. And they still can’t get it right, Al. That’s the amazing thing.

    Growing pains, I guess.

    Sam’s got a tough road of him, one of those obstacles will include making the team in the first place

  5. Sam , wasn’t he the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 ? If he can’t make it with those credentials then what does that tell you about the NFL and specifically the play of Mizzou Tigers ?

    The Cavs . can’t get it right as they fire Mike Brown for the second time during his tenure with the franchise ? All of bull$hit talk about LBJ returning to Cleveland. Only an @ss would think that the player would want to return to his old stomping ground ! The team in its present guise isn’t that good to begin with ! Overrated and playing in a p#ss ant conference and division !

    USA Today …sat

    Cleveland fire Mike Brown after one season back (click on link inset to read story in full )

    Ninety to ninety-five games is well out of reach of the Rays . So explain to me how and why , you thought that this team could win that many games this season ? What were you buying into that Maddon was selling beyond his joviality ? The alleged best pitching roster in the AL which they are not even close to being ?

    tophatal …….

  6. You lost me at Red Sox.
    Seriously, I’m just kind of not in baseball mode just yet. Too much hoops and hockey to pay attention to right now.

    Bozo the Sterling just loves the taste of his own toe jam huh?

    How Anderson Cooper kept a straight face during that douchebags twisted version of an apology is beyond me. What he should do is buy an island and sip umbrella drinks for a year or two while his lawyers do his dirty work, but his ego won’t seem to allow that.

    Rather than suffer through another patheticly whiny plea for forgiveness from saddle bag cheeks, I say we stick Mr. Tokowitz in an elevator with Beyonce’s sister and just let nature take it’s course.

  7. Al…

    Apparently Sam had a pretty poor combine. At least that’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

    The city of Cleveland didn’t notice that GIlbert had fired Mike Brown for a second time. They were too busy celebrating the arrival of Johnny Manziel.

    And Al, you are aware that the Rays’ number two, three and four starters are all injured, correct? That’s not an excuse for them sucking. That’s a reason.

  8. Bleed…

    I haven’t watched much baseball yet either but that doesn’t change the fact that they have a replay system that’s pretty bogus and definitely needs to be fixed.

    And what’s up with Anderson Cooper? How white is that guy? I guess Sterling must have demanded to be interviewed by the whitest guy ever.

  9. Whenever a zebra’s involved, chaos is never far behind. How they can screw up calls with video replay at their disposal just shows how much they perpetuate the blind man stereotype. Happens in the NFL and the NBA too. Sometimes I think they do it just to f with us.

    lol, yeah, Cooper’s either half-albino or an Eloi from H.G Wells Time Machine. I don’t think ol Donny boy would mind V. Stiviskanko bringing his glow in the dark ass to a game.

  10. Chris, terrific conversation with your uncle. Quite informative and objective. Great method of creating debate.


  11. Chris The fans in Cleveland are celebrating the arrival of ” Johnny Football” ? Oh I must have missed something there ! Rumor has it that Brandon Weeden (Romo’s backup in Dallas) sent his successor a congratulatory message wishing him the best of luck .

    Clowney arrives in Houston , but now wide receiver Andre Johnson wants out from the franchise . Go figure ! Years of working with an overrated franchise and a moderately successful Matt Schaub can leave you jaded and shell-shocked .

    So the Rays have injuries woes . But isn’t that why one has a depth chart in terms of a forty man roster ? All of these excuses and still the fact that the team can’t hit for crap much less the woes of the pitching . What next , Maddon has lost his touch in terms of his joviality and micromanaging ?

  12. Afte watching the OKC/Clips game last night, it seems all sports still have some kinks to work out regarding instant replay.

    Refs missed some calls and made some hometown/makeup calls…or non-call in this case. On the biggest “controversial call” of the game, Barnes fouled Jackson (no call), and technically it looked like the ball went out on Jackson, but OKC got the ball.

    Then, on the last play of the game, CP3 got fouled by Jackson, no call, and it led to a turnover to end the game.

    As you know, I’m rooting against the Clips, but in this case, they have a case.

    Just goes to show no matter how many cameras or how many times yoou show it on replay, you’re never going to get every call right.

  13. Sterling still can’t see anything wrong with his behavior and in his interview (Anderson Cooper) he has the gall to go after Magic Johnson and then derogatorily besmirch the guy’s reputation and then goes on about his having HIV ? And all of this , an @ss such as David Stern could not discern from Donald Sterling’s prior bad acts , was to the detriment of the NBA ? Where is the alleged common sense among the league hierarchy much less the anal retentive fans sniffing the former commissioner’s sphincter as if they were smelling a bouquet of red roses ?

  14. Bleed…

    As it turns out this conversation came at a perfect time.

    We generally don’t see Doc Rivers all that angry but he nearly blew his lid at the refs for screwing up that call last night.

    My uncle would have been proud to hear Doc say “Let’s just get rid of replay altogether.” Must be a Boston thing.

    I wonder if Silver’s gonna fine him for criticizing the refs and the league.

  15. C’mon, Al.

    We’re no talking utility players here. We’re talking your 2-3-4 starting pitchers here.

    What team in the Majors could survive a blow like that?

  16. Bleed…

    Just when we thought the NBA had it all figured out. To be honest, I can see that call going both ways.

    It’s not the first time a questionable call has determined a game or a series. Probably won’t be the last.

    Now they’re just scrutinized all that much more.

  17. And they (Braves) have been able use utility players in the role of starting pitchers when two of their presumed top three starters ion the roster have been down for the season . Look at the team ERA’s and where the Rays stand not only in the AL but in all of baseball . If you can’t see the difference then that is down to you .

    Rays’ starters in their games this season and their stats .

    It’s not the wins but where they stand within their respective divisions . Do you believe that the Rays are in great place at the moment, given how competitive the AL East is known to be ?

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