At the Letters: Instant reactions for instant replay

Every so often we see that a shred of humanity remains in the $6 billion moral slaughterhouse that is Major League Baseball. The sport epitomizes the business-over-game mentality that is so pervasive in professional athletics, and it renders moments like the Jim Joyce-Armando Galarraga(notes) lovefest so rare.

It really was beautiful: Galarraga’s forgiveness, Joyce’s humility – a sad and sorry moment rescued and rendered good. Galarraga never will have an official perfect game, but he’ll always have his perfect game. Joyce will never have his blown call back, but he’ll always have the respect of reasonable people.

Armando Galarraga didn't get an official perfect game, but he was part of a beautiful MLB moment.
(Paul Sancya/AP)

And so we’re left with the upshot of it: Not just a feel-good story but an impetus to discuss instant replay’s place in baseball. I called for it, then explained how realistic and easy it is. You responded – in droves.

Replay in baseball remains a wildly divisive issue. There is no middle ground. Just advocates and opponents, each with a strong and unmoving opinion. Let’s showcase both, along with some thoughts on Stephen Strasburg(notes) and an At the Letters first.


Like you, I opposed replay in baseball for years. After watching the success of the challenge system in tennis, I have changed my mind. Each team should be given two or three opportunities to challenge a call during the game. If the call is overturned, the team gets to keep its challenge and is not penalized. If the call is upheld, the team loses a challenge. It would add to the managerial strategy of the game. Do you challenge a safe-out call on the eighth-place hitter with two outs and the pitcher coming up? Like the NFL, the evidence would have to be incontrovertible to overturn the original call. Technology changes baseball all the time (stronger bats, better quality gloves, supplements, both legal and otherwise). Everyone just needs to accept it and move on.

James Chretien
West Hollywood, Calif.

Even those in favor of replay are divided into multiple groups. One argument occurs between those in favor of a fifth umpire with unlimited replay ability – I’m in that camp – and those like James, who prefer a limited replay system, as in the NFL. Not only do I believe all objective calls should be made correct, I worry about teams abusing their replay privileges – say, tossing the flag to give a relief pitcher an extra minute to warm up or to get in the head of a pitcher on the mound. I guess that ends up becoming strategy and gamesmanship, which, in the end, isn’t the worst thing. It just seems disingenuous.


Foul balls and trapped balls become problematic. If the ball is called fair and the play finishes and then is determined foul, you pull everyone back and do it again. Since these hits are usually extra-base hits, that means you could be calling back outs, undoing a run in at home plate, which would all go badly with fans and would happen a decent bit just due to the nature of the play. More important, how do you fix a ball called foul that wasn’t? You can’t. That kind of inequality just doesn’t work. Same for trapped balls. Just redo the last pitch?

Geoffrey Benedict
Pittsburgh

Playing devil’s advocate …

1. Would every double play where the infielder straddles or comes off the bag early – most of ‘em, by my unofficial count – be subject to review? These fall under bang-bang plays, do they not?

2. Technically speaking, the strike zone isn’t “up to interpretation.” The rulebook very clearly states what is and what isn’t a strike. So why allow for the human element in a situation that has such a significant effect on both the outcome of the game as well as individual achievement?

3. Wouldn’t there be at least a part of you that would miss blown calls and the ensuing arguments and ejections? Let’s face it: [Joyce’s] missed call has generated significantly more discussion than a third perfect game of the 2010 season would have. Granted, this at the expense of Galarraga and Joyce, but it’s been a windfall for writers like yourself and even fans like me. Plus, what will the Lou Piniellas of the world do when they can’t direct their anger toward umps anymore?

Lee Taylor
Pittsburgh

There are also the relative absolutists, like me, and those in favor of far more limited replay, like the gentlemen above from that stinkhole in Pennsylvania. (Sorry. Can’t ever take the Cleveland out of me.)

Actually, both raise excellent points. I’ll address the fair-foul and traps first because they’re easier: It’s the replay umpire’s discretion. He’s not there simply to look at the replays as much as to use the multiple camera angles to interpret certain situations. Of course, this could end up leading to more controversy in the end. If, say, the press-box umpire shortchanges what fans are sure would have been a double by placing a runner on first base, or keeping a runner on third base who totally would have scored. It still leaves umpires as prone as ever and keeps their jobs relevant.

As for Lee: I’m glad he’s not a lawyer cross-examining me on the stand. He found the weakest points of my argument and attacked. Second basemen straddling the bag – the neighborhood play, as it’s known – is so difficult to navigate. The night I outlined my thoughts on replay, I spent 15 minutes talking with Dave Brown about how to address it. I think in such plays, if replay shows an infielder’s foot is off the bag, the runner should be safe. But Dave brought up the safety issue – the reason for the neighborhood play’s existence – and it’s difficult to say a half-dozen ACLs is proper collateral damage for replay’s implementation.

Technically, no, the strike zone isn’t up to interpretation. But it’s either umpires calling their distinct version of the zone or a machine calling it. And as much as I appreciate technology and want the right call to be made, even that’s too Orwellian for me. There are some who disagree. Logically, I can’t quarrel. Emotionally, it just doesn’t work. I suppose the anti-replay zealots feel similarly about my boundary-stretching ideas.

Lou and his brethren need not worry. This is baseball. Never will they lack for a reason to bitch. They’ll still have balls and strikes, after all, as will we vultures just dying for something to take up precious kilobytes.


I recently read your article that accused me of being as “blind” as Jim Joyce. You argued the game’s fairness. I feel like you have a Little League mentality. These are grown men playing the game, and the game sometimes hands them lemons. I am in favor of instant replay for Little League games so kids can play fair. Why don’t we start working on that? For now, let’s preserve baseball’s deep connection to real life and remember one of the first life lessons you learn back when you’re in Little League: life is not fair. Just because replay would create a technologically superior and more accurately officiated game doesn’t mean it would make it better.

Steve Corbett
Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Japan

Steve is one of those who won’t ever change. While I do still believe he needs to visit an ophthalmologist, his opinion is fair. My best counterargument: The game exists to teach life lessons, sure, but more than that, it is here to crown a winner and a loser. If you can provide something that would make doing so increasingly even-handed, why not endeavor to do so? Though life may not be fair, we sure wish it were.


As a support to the argument you are now making about avoidance of blown calls following Wednesday’s events, you could do worse than study the literature on international cricket, which went through, and safely traversed, the agonizing of MLB today regarding the introduction of television-assisted umpire calls. Indeed, run-outs – the broad equivalent of what cost Galarraga his perfect game – were a particular bane, as were leg-before-wicket decisions, and it is today clear that cricket has benefitted tremendously from such assistance for umpires, any slight delay from the (off-field) third ump notwithstanding. It is also clear today that several decisions are too close to call and that television has been very much a net plus.

After two starts, is it too early to start touting Stephen Strasburg for the Hall of Fame?
(Duane Burleson/AP)

Peter Smith
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

For anybody who wants to look over the cricket rules, here is a PDF. They’re quite interesting, particularly with the idea that players can initiate replays instead of umpires or managers.

Well-founded or not, Hudson’s concerns are his concerns, and it is well within his rights to cast blame where he chooses. Now, if he ignores well-thought-out rebuttals – such as the one in the next letter – then you’re well within your rights, likewise, to think he’s using race in a context where it need not be used.

Oh, the fun that would cause in the MLB. What, forsooth, would come of Mark Buehrle(notes) asking Joe West for a replay? Again, Lee, there is where your managerial entertainment enters into play.


How about MLB cleaning house and getting rid of the incompetent umpires? That is the correct response, over and over and over again. To make instant replay the answer changes the game forever. Let’s just change a few umpires and get on with the game. I’m sure there are upcoming umpires that can do a much better job.

Bruce Johnson
Twentynine Palms, Calif.

That there are. West could be replaced. So could C.B. Bucknor, Angel Hernandez, Bill Davidson, Bill Hohn and Doug Eddings. There’s your crew for the Sorld Weries, where everything that’s wrong is right.

Here’s the thing: Jim Joyce isn’t among them. Nowhere close. And he made the most famous bad call in 25 years. So to suggest fixing the umpires doesn’t address the real issue. Even the best are fallible.

And anyway, getting rid of the bad ones is damn near impossible. No matter how weak the umpires’ union, it still manages to protect its veterans. So West somehow remains employed – he’s president of the union, naturally – and gives a bad, bad name to organized labor everywhere.


STEPHEN STRASBURG: MAN OR MACHINE?

You stated in your article on Strasburg’s debut that no pitcher had ever struck out 14 on as few pitches as 94. That’s not true. Kerry Wood(notes) got strikeout No. 14 on pitch No. 94 in his 20-strikeout game back in ’98. There could be other examples where the pitcher got 14 or more on 94 or fewer pitches and then continued pitching, but this one immediately came to mind, and I looked up the box score to check on it. Strasburg’s debut was absolutely amazing nonetheless, and I am not trying to take anything away from what he accomplished.

Benjamin Hartnett
Oakland, Calif.

Guilty as charged. Great catch. I guess I should’ve been clearer and said no pitcher finished a game with so many strikeouts on so few pitches. In addition to Wood’s masterpiece – whose box score always merits a glance to remind us of what he was – I came across an anonymous gem from Sterling Hitchcock when he pitched for San Diego. Against Montreal on Aug. 29, 1998, in front of 52,661 fans – yes, the Padres used to draw such crowds, with 11 of 50,000-plus that year – Hitchcock struck out his 14th batter, Dustin Hermanson, on his 93rd pitch of the night..


Now that Strasburg has been awarded the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young, the only question is: Will he be the first to Cooperstown before he retires?

Kurt
Los Angeles

He’s got my vote.

(Good thing I don’t get a vote for another three years.)


NICE CARDINALS FAN LETTER OF THE WEEK?

I was wondering when you are going to bring back the mailbag. As much as I disliked your article on the St. Louis Cardinals fans a few years back, I have to admit there were elements of truth to it. I thought the comments you received from the mailbag were certainly entertaining. Since then I have read a lot of your stuff and really enjoy it. I also wonder if you still get vitriolic hate mail from the delusional extremes of Cardinal Nation?

Nate McMahill
St. Louis

Actually, I don’t, and I feel so … empty. When I was looking for my Angry Cardinals Fan Letter of the Week, the worst I could find was some guy aggrieved because I didn’t include Jaime Garcia(notes) and David Freese(notes) among the most hyped phenoms of 2010. Then I saw Nate’s letter and figured I’d show that all Cardinals fans aren’t complete imbeciles.

What am I saying? This is way too saccharine for me, so listen and listen good.

I can’t tell the difference between Imo’s pizza and the cardboard box it comes in. St. Louis-style is the leper of barbeque. Congratulations, you have a big arch as your logo … so does McDonald’s. For arteries’ sake, please stop calling it “toasted ravioli” when you toss it in a deep fryer. And most important: You do not know nearly as much about baseball as you think when an enormous yelp comes from more than half the crowd on every medium-depth fly ball.

There. I don’t ever want to run a Nice Cardinals Fan Letter of the Week again.

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jun 17, 2010