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Debate 2012: Expanding Instant Replay MLB’s No. 1 Issue

Means Exist to Get Calls Right, so Why Is MLB so Slow to Change?

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Debate 2012: Expanding Instant Replay MLB’s No. 1 Issue
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Umpire Jim Joyce.

Major League Baseball is far from perfect. A salary structure that allows some teams to spend $200 million or more on player payrolls while others are economically unable to reach that level of spending has hurt the ability of some clubs to compete.

The sport is still coming out from under a widespread performance-enhancing drug scandal that has tainted the perception of an entire era.

But the biggest issue facing Major League Baseball right now is its stubborn reluctance to move into the 21st century with regard to using instant replay on a broader basis.

Right now, the only plays subject to review by replay are home run calls. While MLB vice president Joe Torre told USA Today in August that the sport is looking at expanding instant replay for the 2013 season, it is something that is long overdue.

Recent baseball history is replete with calls that were absolutely blown, some of them in postseason situations and one that famously kept a pitcher out of the record books.

Some of the more egregious examples in recent memory include:

- 2009 American League Division Series: Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins hits a ball down the left-field line in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the series that appeared to be a fair ball. However, umpire Phil Cuzzi called it foul (click here for video). Mauer eventually singled but was unable to score on hits that would have easily chased him home from second base.

- 2009 American League Championship Series: The New York Yankees again benefited from a blown call on their way to the World Series, this time when umpire Tim McClelland inexplicably called Jorge Posada safe on a bizarre play at third base in Game 4 against the Los Angeles Angels (click here for video). Most would agree that being tagged out while off the base constitutes an out. In this instance, McClelland begged to differ.

- June 2, 2010: Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers pitched a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians. Except he didn't. Umpire Jim Joyce somehow botched what would have been the final out of the gem, calling Cleveland's Jason Donald safe on a play where he was not just out, but easily out (click here for video).

There are more examples, but the point is clear: Each of the three calls referenced above could have been easily and quickly corrected by use of instant replay.

Every other major North American professional sport uses replay. The National Football League allows coaches to challenge a ruling on the field and in the final two minutes of a half, the replay booth takes over to automatically review close calls. The National Basketball Association allows its referees to use video replay to determine the validity of potential buzzer-beating shots and to check for flagrant fouls. In the final two minutes of overtime, beginning this season, officials can now use replay to determine a defender's position on charging/blocking calls.

The National Hockey League reviews all goals and does so from the league's offices in Toronto.

The primary arguments against instant replay are usually decrying the elimination of the human element from the game and concerns over how much time would be spent reviewing plays.

While the use of replay for ball-strike calls should never be allowed to happen, thus ensuring plenty of human element remains in the game, there is simply no reason not to use replay to determine fair or foul calls and safe or out calls.

Regarding the time issue, I'd be willing to bet a replay review could be conducted in roughly the same amount of time, or less, than it takes for a manager to waddle across the field from the dugout to argue a call. Call this the Bobby Cox Theory of Replay Viability.

The bottom line is that it is the 21st century. There is simply no excuse for Major League Baseball not employing the latest available technology to ensure its games are correctly officiated.

Phil Watson was a writer and editor at several daily newspapers in the U.S. for more than 20 years and is a longtime New York Yankee fan.

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