Instant issue

NAPLES, Fla. – I have no problem with Major League Baseball discussing the use of instant replay, so long as the conversation goes something like this:

"Now, on the agenda, is inst … "


Baseball, unlike its sporting brethren, has resisted succumbing to the giant tease of replay, which promises accuracy and accountability, then often delivers muddled calls, ensures slower games and suffers from fallible technology. And still, baseball's general managers unanimously recommended Wednesday that the sport at least explore the possibility of using replay on controversial calls.

The suggestion came during the GMs' meeting with Mike Port, MLB's vice president of umpiring. Using a PowerPoint presentation, Port showed statistics to back up his contention that umpires improved this season in nearly every facet of their job. Had Port opted against PowerPoint, perhaps the GMs would not have been so cranky.

Because the numbers he included were rather compelling.

More than 50 percent of the games played this season were attended by someone from Port's office, and in those games, they reported a total of 100 incorrect calls, or one every 12.2 games. Those do not include balls and strikes, which, since the advent of the QuesTec system that monitors umpires, have become far more consistent.

In the 11 QuesTec parks this season, umpires called 94.91 percent of pitches correctly. Some games, umpires hit 100 percent. Imagine: 250 of 250 pitches, all a matter of inches, pegged correctly.

It's easy to forget those numbers when Chase Utley smashes a ball down the right-field line at RFK Stadium and Rob Drake rules it foul. It was Sept. 26, the waning days of the pennant drive, and Utley's Philadelphia Phillies were locked in a race for the National League wild card. The ball glanced off the foul pole. It should have been a home run. Drake, required to make a split-second decision, decided it wasn't. The Phillies lost to Washington 4-3. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the wild card.

Replay might have changed that.

"Philosophically, it really goes to what you want the game to be," Port said. "In our regard, many of us feel the game belongs in the hands of the people on the field, for better or worse."

In that instance, it was for worse, and Port acknowledges "there are occasions, admittedly, where the umpire's call can cost a team a game."

Yet replay in baseball is a Pandora's Box. If umpires look at replays to see if a ball hit a foul pole or landed above a yellow line to determine a home run, why shouldn't they see if a ball hit down the line kicked up chalk and was fair? And if they double check whether an outfielder caught or trapped a ball when he dove for it in the outfield, what's the harm in nitpicking whether a pitch nicked a player or he just did an Oscar-worthy acting job?

Sometimes, baseball doesn't know when to stop itself, and replay provides another disaster in waiting. When MLB discovered the power of marketing, it thought putting Spider-Man logos on the bases would be a good idea. When MLB realized it was flush with cash, it decided to start rewarding ridiculous salaries again. Give MLB a TiVo, and you just might start hearing the "bloop bloop" through the P.A. system every night.

"It's a big item," said Joe Garagiola Jr., MLB's VP of baseball operations and the GM's' spokesman. "You want to solicit the views of the GMs. The commissioner's views are well known, but I know he respects the body here."

Commissioner Bud Selig is vehemently against replay, and while the decision ultimately is up to the owners, he would lobby hard. Because baseball contends its umpires are the best in sports, even if they do allow Kenny Rogers to pitch with pine tar on his pitching hand in a World Series game. They have done a better job with the strike zone. They have stabilized games to average around 2 hours, 47 minutes, a miracle considering the 3-hour borefests that were so commonplace earlier in the decade. They get almost every call right, and that isn't easy.

"Last year, when I was new on the job, one of the veteran umpires told me he had a play at second base that he took inside second base," Port said. "The infielder blocked him out. He called the runner out. When he went in and watched the replay, the man was safe. He had an interesting point. He said, 'Boy, I wish I'd been on the right-field roof like that camera.' "

Umpires aren't perfect.

Hopefully, baseball will agree that replay isn't, either.