An unusual thing happens to people who go to an actual baseball game. They are watching the action when something spectacular happens, and their immediate response is a desire to see the play again, to get a better look. Then disappointment dawns just as quickly when they realize that in real life there is no instant replay.
Major League Baseball has decided that there is instant replay. On Thursday baseball announced it would expand instant replay to allow for correction of most dubious calls starting next year. At present, managers are allowed to challenge disputed home runs. Next year they will be allowed one challenge during the first six innings and two in the final three, except on questions of balls and strikes, hit batsmen and check swings. Unlike challenges in football, where referees review disputed calls on the sidelines, officials at headquarters in New York would be at the ready to decide disputes.
It is another incursion of technology and the allure of exactitude into the realm of the human. As such, it will be welcome to some and anathema to others.
Umpires make mistakes. About that there is no doubt. Omnipresent TV cameras have made their errors plain to see to millions of viewers. One of the most famous occurred in 2010 on the final out of what would have been a perfect game thrown by Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga. On the play umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe at first base in a play where replays showed he was out. Joyce knew he blew the call. Galarraga knew Joyce had robbed him of a perfect game. Instant replay would have rectified the error.
What followed was an exercise in graciousness that would not have been possible if rules had allowed for review of the play. Joyce apologized, Galaragga accepted the apology, and they wrote a book together. It was the most famous perfect game never thrown.
Baseball players strive for perfection, but seldom achieve it. Learning to handle mistakes is part of the game — whether you are a batter returning to the dugout after striking out or a player who learns to forget the error he has just made.
Accepting the mistakes of umpires has also been part of the game since the beginning. The fallibility of umpires is one of the great themes of the rhetoric in the stands.
It is a valuable lesson to learn in baseball as in life. There is no instant replay when nations go to war, when people commit crimes, when a momentary lapse causes an accident, when we misunderstand what our friends are telling us. We live in a world foggy with uncertainties, and admitting our fallibility is one of the first lessons of life. Expecting perfection from oneself, or from the arbiters of foul balls and putouts, is delusional.
But improving the accuracy of calls, when possible, surely cannot hurt. That is what some of the great leaders of the game are saying. They include revered former managers Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. When a pennant or a World Series is on the line, or even a forgettable game in mid-August, why not make use of the tools available to make sure the winner actually deserved to win?
It’s hard to argue with that view except to point out what is lost: an appreciation of the innate uncertainty of our judgments and the need to be gracious when confronted with error. That doesn’t mean managers should not scream and kick the dirt when they are robbed. It may happen, however, that instant replay cuts down on the emotional displays by managers or the high drama of umpires tossing managers from the game.
To the age-old complaint, “We wuz robbed,” we will now have the rejoinder, “You wuz robbed, but then we returned your money.”
What fun is that?
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