Time Out: August 20, 2013

We interrupt this ballgame .... That was the headline of Friday’s New York Times sport’s section as they covered Major League Baseball’s announcement of plans to dramatically expand the use of instant video replay to challenge the field decisions of umpires. Say it ain’t so, Joe!
That’s former Yankee manager Joe Torre who worked on a three-man team that made the recommendation to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. Here’s how the proposed change would work.
Each manager will get one replay challenge in the first six innings of a game and two from the seventh inning on. It’s ‘use it or lose it’ with the first manager’s challenge. Yet, if a successful challenge is logged during the original time frame, that challenge does not count against the manager’s one challenge limit. The existing system for challenging home run calls where three of the four umpires leave the field to watch video will remain in effect. Other challenges will be reviewed at an MLB Advanced Media headquarters in Manhattan with a final decision sent back to the ballpark where the challenge was logged.
Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Issues still exist
The instant replay decision is not without risk. Baseball, a sport considered too slow by more and more sports fans, runs the risk of getting much slower. The Times reported the time of an average major league baseball game soared from two hours and 33 minutes to two hours and 58 minutes in 2013. Adding further delays without action in baseball is like a doctor putting an overweight patient on an ice cream diet.
Baseball purists, like yours truly, also struggle with the change. What’s wrong with the human element in baseball? Doesn’t human judgment count for anything any more? What’s next? We already have technology that can accurately call balls and strikes on pitched balls. Will the home plate umpire go the way of the checkout cashier, the bank teller or the tollbooth operator? I hope not.
Then there is the competitive nature of coaches. I have a very good friend who is a former high school basketball coach, one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever known. Like all high school basketball coaches, he understands how important timeouts can be in helping manage a game. He also understands the need to slow the momentum of an opposing team when they were making a run. Those understandings saw him once “accidentally on purpose” spill water on the court when the action had shifted to the other end, so he could call for time to wipe up the mess. Of course, the opposing team was in the midst of a scoring run. He wasn’t assessed a timeout.
Will major league managers now use replay challenges to slow down an opposing pitcher who is mowing down their team’s batters? You be the judge!

Controversy continues
And, remember, if we had instant replay, some of baseball’s most memorable moments wouldn’t be so memorable at all. The Amando Galarraga’s 28-out perfect game would have become a regular 27-out pitching masterpiece, Galarraga blurred with all the other baseball pitchers who have thrown perfect games. Yankee fans who gloat over their team’s 27 World Championships might only crow about 26, because young fan and Yankee hero Jeffrey Maier would have been called for fan interference rather than the Yankees awarded a game tying home run when Maier reached over the wall to deflect a deep Derek Jeter fly ball into the stands as an Oriole outfielder waited to catch the ball below during a 1996 play-off game.
And, Met fans would still be searching for that elusive first franchise no-hitter when Carlos Beltran’s liner down the left field line that kicked up chalk on Johann Santana’s historic night had been ruled fair instead of foul.
Like parents and teachers and people making decisions in any walk of life, umpires sometimes get it wrong and sometimes get it right and with all good intentions are always working to improve their ratio on the positive side of the ledger. I’m not convinced using video replay to sanitize umpire decision making makes baseball a better game or makes those who play the game or watch it better for doing so. I’d rather not fool any more with the natural rhythms of a baseball game.