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Inside Mr. Met's Head


June 13, 2010 9:55 PM

Point/Counterpoint: Instant Replay

1147787954_6166.jpgEver since the Jim Joyce/Armando Galarraga debacle, the media and fans have all been talking about instant replay. While perhaps it's not the most feasible plan, replay should probably be fully incorporated into the game. Even though it will make the game longer and will probably annoy all the traditionalists (perhaps reason enough to incorporate it, actually), baseball needs some sort of system to check up on the umpires and most importantly, get the calls right.

I was speaking with my college buddy, fellow blogger, and Mets fan Chris Desch about replay. Rarely do our debates remain civil. They are usually very heated as we are both very opinionated people. Back in 2007, when we were living in the same apartment at the University of Scranton, a discussion about whether or not the Mets should fire Willie Randolph almost came to actual blows. We take things a little too seriously. I felt that our conversation was interesting enough and covered both sides of the debate.

Andrew Tworischuk: How can anyone who follows baseball on a regular basis be against replay? You don't seriously believe that the "human element" belongs in sports?

Chris Desch: You know that some people will make the 'purity of the game argument. I'm not one of those people. Baseball changes. With that in mind, I grudgingly accepted using instant replay on home runs. I embraced it further when the Mets got like 526 home runs last summer because of it but I digress. Nor will I use the slippery slope fallacy. You know the one. "First instant replay will expand to calls at the plate or the bases. Then it will go to balls and strikes. Then the game will be played on a spreadsheet. Finally, the baseball robots will kill my father and rape my mother. The main reason is that I believe instant replay will drastically slow down the sport. Baseball games are slightly longer than they used to be. With instant replay, they become significantly longer.

Tworischuk: I'm honestly willing to sacrifice five or ten added minutes if it means the umpires get a call right. I don't believe that replay should be added for every call. That would be absurd and simply not feasible. I agree with whoever said managers should be given one or two challenges a game. If you use it, that's it. If you use your challenge to overturn a blown call at first and later in the game end up losing because the umps blow an obvious call, so be it. It's your own fault for blowing it. But there needs to be some sort of check and balance system for umpires in Major League Baseball. The quality of guys like CB Bucknor and Joe West are appalling.

Desch: Well, Joe West sucks. I felt like dealing with the obvious first. Also, you can limit the amount of challenges per game. That's not a horrible idea. But does it really solve anything? If you overturn one blown call and five more are made that cannot be touched, is that really progress? Sort of. It's progress in the sense that one less bad call was made. But are fans really going to be satisfied with that? I can see the conversation now: "Well so and so blew these games with at least one bad call an inning (bad calls per inning umped, or bciu, would be a great statistic) but at least one of his awful calls was challenged successfully. Progress.

Tworischuk:  The issue with replay is two-fold. One, the reason why replay is needed is because of the quality of umpiring. I don't think there's any debate there. Two: people just want baseball games (and sports games in general) to be called correctly and not tainted by an umpire or referee who simply wasn't paying attention to the action on the field. Just look at the Jeffery Maier blown call. Do you have any idea how much pain that caused me? Those anger management and depression therapy sessions aren't cheap.

Desch: If you think you have issues thanks to Maier, how do you think Armando Benitez feels? Not only did the dude get screwed, he then had to pitch for the Mets. Poor guy never stood a chance.

If the big issue is really the quality of the umps, baseball could and should take a few steps toward correcting that. For starters, they could put down Joe West. Then, having all ready made a substantial impact, they could begin paying an actual living wage to umpires in the minor leagues. As the late umpire Durwood Merrill pointed out, the problem is that the umpires who often stick around in the minors are the guys who are too incompetent to tie their own shoes let alone umpire games. Make things better for umps at the lower levels and you get a better pool of umpires to choose from. It's kind of like building up a good farm system.

Finally, when an umpire flagrantly misses a call, kill him. Nothing says "pay attention" like a head on a poll.

Tworischuk: I see you've read up on the "Stalin Method."

Desch: Well he did rule for a long time. Must have done something right, no?

Tworischuk: I'm not touching that.

Anyway, I don't have an issue with fixing the quality of umpiring obviously. I think an improvement of umpire quality could make instant replay an easier pill to swallow for all those horrible baseball traditionalists -- with better umpires comes less errors. Then the one or two replays a game become a way to make sure that the rare hypothetical late game mistake doesn't cost a team a victory.

More importantly, "game speed" being an excuse for lack of replay is a terrible argument to make considering the overall value of correctly called games.

Desch: That's fair enough. My biggest concern at this point is that this is the MLB. Bud Selig is in charge. He will screw this up, and he will screw it up horribly. Maybe I should just be arguing that Selig should be gone?

I digress. If we're going to use replay, baseball should use a modified version of football's challenge rule. If you get the challenge correct, you keep it. Limit it to three or so? Then punish the team if the challenge fails.

Tworischuk: One replay, you get it right and you keep it. Get it wrong and it's gone. You don't want managers overusing it (and you know they will if they have more than one).

Desch: Well, managers will use and abuse anything they can get their hands on. I can't blame them. I may hate Kobe but if I coached the Lakers you bet your ass I'd use him. This is a similar case I suppose. Now, if a manager uses his one challenge just to spite the other team, such is life. At least limiting the amount of calls that can be questions makes this easier to swallow.

Tworischuk: There is no reason not to have replay, especially if it's handled right. Not to toot my own horn but the suggestion I gave is the best option. Even if you argue game speed, okay, fine. Use it in the playoffs or extremely critical games. People aren't going to turn off exciting playoff games because they're going on too long. It's not even like one or two replays in a game would add all that much time. Sometimes it only takes a few quick seconds to get a call right.

How much times do home run replays take? Five minutes tops? Those are much more complex than telling whether or not a dude is out at first or if a ball is fair or foul. And maybe, if game speed actually ever became an issue, they'll start playing playoff games during the day again! What a novel concept!

Desch: Well, personally I'll never turn off an exciting game regardless of the situation. That's because I'm a real fan. Also, I have no life.

As for assuming this will be handled correctly or hoping we may get playoff games when the average American is actually awake? I have two words: Bud Selig.

Tworischuk: Just to pile on how awful Selig is, here's a quote from him.

"I can remember as a kid in the '50s, listening to complaints about umpiring. 'God it's awful. It's terrible! What are they going to do?' Here we are 60 years later and we seem to be doing okay."

The problem, Bud, is that okay isn't good enough. We have the technology that they didn't have then. This technology will rectify these issues and to ignore it for the "sanctity of the game" is probably the most stupid decision ever.

Desch: Bud Selig sucks. I appreciate people making fun of him.

Tworischuk: The one argument I've heard that completely boggles my mind is that baseball is an "unfair sport." That the game is inherently designed not to be fair. That may be true in the sense of a ball dropping into the outfield and a run scoring but why would that make it okay for the umpires to make the game unfair?

Desch: If baseball was meant to be fair, every team would play the Astros and Pirates an equal amount of times.

Tworischuk: I just don't understand how the unfairness of baseball gives umpires the ability to be terrible.

Desch: I'm not saying it's an excuse for umpiring to suck. I'm saying I want to play the Pirates and Astros more.

Tworischuk: I don't think anyone would turn that down. Maybe the Mets would actually be a playoff team.

Desch: Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

So there you have it. Replay is needed in baseball.

Special thanks to Chris Desch for participating.

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