I’ve waited a while to collect my thoughts on the institution of instant replay in baseball. There have been moments when I was ready to come on here and rage about its downfalls and then sing its praises.

The Giants have been aided by baseball’s newest experiment:

And other times the Giants have been completely screwed over:

Hey! Getting all the calls right is good, right?

Yes, of course. The point of implementing instant replay was to maximize the quality of play, essentially removing as much of the human element out of the game as possible. Almost every call on the field is now nearly guaranteed to be correct. Well, at least that was Bud Selig’s master plan. There’s a little gray area as some plays like interference or check swings can not be challenged by managers or looked at again by umpires. But for the most part, games will now be played with the highest integrity and standard the sport has ever seen. All sounds like good news to me…just one thing.

I miss the human element. I miss the competitiveness and passion of the game coming through player’s reactions to close plays. I miss the scuttle between a manager and an umpire on questionable calls. I don’t miss historical moments being ruined by an umpire’s misjudgment (see: Armando Galarraga), but the excitement and urgency of the call from the umpire on a bang-bang play was exciting. Instead, players now fold their arms and stand by and watch the replay on the scoreboard as they wait for the umpires in New York to make the decision for the officials on the field.

Mike Matheny,  Sean Barber

Some of the best cinema and drama of baseball has been removed. Maybe it’s selfish, but some of the most crucial missed calls in a game…I actually enjoyed. The conversation and argument sparked by those instances made for great drama.

You know why? Because those instances were few and far between. An umpire in baseball has the hardest officiating of any major sport. A countless amount of plays happen in a game, and the umpire is asked to make the split-second decision to officiate the game based on what he saw or heard in that flash of a moment. But the umpires made the right calls the vast majority of the time. The occasional slip ups were exposed and blown up by networks – rightfully so, I suppose – but missed calls have been around the game for 150 years.

On-the-field arguments have all but been removed from the game. There’s not much of a point for them now, when the final word can come from an umpire watching video replays. The anxiety and weight hanging on the call of the umpire has been dissolved, because nearly anything can be reviewed and overturned. The human element of baseball is gone. Right?

Not so fast, there’s a new element.

I’ll skip the blabber and direct you to these images of Brandon Hicks “clearly” missing first base.

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As far as I know, a call on the field is only to be overturned by video replay if there is clear and conclusive evidence that suggests the call was incorrect. Hicks was called safe on the appeal. In the opinion of the umpire, Hicks touched first base. The question is not how well do these images and video replays show that Hicks touched first base, but the question instead is, which image or replay clearly shows that Hicks didn’t touch the bag? It has to be conclusive. There must be a unanimous decision after viewing the replays that the wrong call was made on the field.

This is a small sample size. I am partially biased in this case. But this is absolutely not conclusive. The umpires sitting in a control room have the luxury of cheating. They get to watch every replay that can be shown on TV in as slow of motion as they would like. Considering we’re under the assumption the control room umpires only have access to the replays that the public has, I never saw a replay that clearly showed space between his foot and the bag. The replay system completely failed in this instance.

Time is of the essence.

Remember a little while back when Joe West made some very pointed comments toward the Red Sox and Yankee organizations about how slow their paces of game are? Baseball is already a victim of the impatient generation of sports fans. Instant replay has not sped up the game.

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Typically it only takes one or two replays to determine what call should have been made. In 95% of plays that are reviewed, there should be at least one clear replay that gives an indication of what the correct call is. I feel as if these umpires in the control room think the call needs to be clear on four or five replays rather than just one or two conclusive ones. Why? If you see a replay that suggests a conclusive call one way or the other, you should not have to sift through four or five other angles to reinforce what you saw. And if it takes four or five additional replays, the call shouldn’t be overturned because clearly nothing is that conclusive.

Some replays have taken 30 seconds. Others have taken upward of five minutes. It seems to only take the broadcast crew on TV about a minute and a half to make a final decision. Get your stuff together, baseball.

This probably isn’t the case, but…

The umpire fraternity is a close-knit one. After all, they’re really the only ones looking out for one another. Turning against one of their own by overturning a call by a fellow umpire could be a double-edged sword. Prove one of your fellow umpires wrong, and improve the game. Prove one of your fellow umpires wrong, face potential ridicule in the brotherhood. But that being said, there shouldn’t have to be a discussion about one umpire trying to protect another by utilizing a system their own union approved. Obviously there’s no clear-cut evidence that any such activity is going on, but one can’t help but speculate when baseball’s new full-proof system isn’t full-proof yet.

It’s not full-proof because baseball has a new human element to it. The human element with umpires on the field is now doubled by the human element with the umpires in front of a monitor in New York. As two umpires stand on the field with headsets on, we’re left to question whether or not the replay official will see the same conclusive evidence as fans do on the standard TV feed. The ambiguity and disguise of the new human element of baseball disturbs me. Let’s try to fix this.

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Going forward:

If anything, I’m in favor of MLB taking an NFL/NBA/NHL approach to instant replay. Provide an on-site booth for the umpires on the field to make the call. I’m tired of playing the waiting game for five minutes on the field. I want the umpires at the actual game to be held accountable for every call made on the field. Give them a monitor they can look at briefly just like they do on an NFL field, NBA court, and NHL rink, and let the officials at the game decide. If three other major sports can pull it off, why can’t baseball? Hell, the fans have their own replay booth via the gigantic jumbotrons in nearly every stadium.

I’m not sure about the possibilities of this, but I would like a streamlined feed of what’s being shown in the replay booth on the scoreboard and TV. I want to see what the umpires are seeing, not just what I think/hope they are seeing. I’ve been to a few Giants games at AT&T Park this season and have been totally unimpressed with the way the instant replay experience is being dealt with for the fans. Stadiums are allowed to show any and every replay of a call on the field that is being reviewed.

So, why am I only being shown one, maybe two different angles on the scoreboard in actual speed?

I don’t want to see two different angles in 15 seconds and sit there for the remaining three or four minutes staring at a “The Play is Currently Under Review” sign on the board. Let me see all of the replay angles to make my own judgement about a call. Before instant replay, controversial calls were not shown on the scoreboard so as not to incite a riot. Understandable. For baseball’s new “gem” of a system, there should be no need for protection.

No need to protect the fans. No need to protect the players or coaches. And especially no reason to protect the umpires. There’s little reason the new system shouldn’t work flawlessly.

Ron Washington, Dan Bellino

But there’s one more thing…

I still miss the real human element. I want to see the vicious disagreement from a player when an umpire bangs his fist forward to call him out. Baseball has had replay technology for more than the last three decades, so I don’t think it’s really a crime to limit it a little more than it is now.

Let’s give each team one challenge per game. That’s it. Get it right, great. Kudos to you. Now back to the way the game was played for more than a century. And if the manager leaves the dugout, it will not be to stall for his bench coach to let him know if he should challenge or not. But if the manager leaves the dugout with some sort of indicator on him (challenge flag, anyone?), he will be required to challenge the play. Everyone wil know the previous play is being challenged and it will not be some ridiculous stalling tactic. He can leave the dugout to argue with the umpire or plead with him to deliberate with the other umpires, but he may not leave the dugout to stall for time.

One challenge per game. That’s it. No more stalling. This is the closest compromise to the “old school” way that I can concoct.

In conclusion,

I would like a few changes. It has been publicized since the start of the season that instant replay is a work in progress. Changes will be made, bugs will be found. It’s all trial and error. So I think let’s try a little harder to find a seamless way to maintain the way the game has been played forever, and implement today’s latest technology to improve the game.

About The Author

Connor Grossman
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Currently enjoying the tropical, subzero temperatures in the Fresno of New York. I don't miss Eli Whiteside.