Instant replay was overdue, flaws and all

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

Baseball, by the way, still has plenty of innocence.

There’s, well, David Eckstein. The lights coming on at Dodger Stadium just before dusk. Mariano Rivera dashing through the left-field gate in the Bronx. Albert Pujols thinking fastball in St. Louis.

And A.J. Pierzynski in a rundown.

What’s more innocent than that?

A few wires, a couple cameras and a command center in Manhattan breathing down the necks of some umpires, the pastime grows up a little, life changes a little, a home run is a home run again. Or not.

Last in line again, baseball unveiled its instant replay procedures Tuesday afternoon on home run calls, in time for a few games Thursday, and for all of them Friday, and then in the postseason, where the next little Jeffrey Maier plots.

It was time.

Take the game and its frailties, the game and its human error, the game and its romantic notions, and then get a few more calls right. By his own admission, commissioner Bud Selig took a long while to get his willowy arms around this one.

And now what we have is a war room, a technician and an umpiring supervisor standing by, direct lines to every ballpark and an in-park monitor with a joystick. And we have a month for everyone to get comfortable with it.

It’s progress, gentle and, hopefully, unobtrusive.

“I think this helps the sport and I think it helps get it right,” Selig said.

And, he said, he won’t ever try to help the sport get it more right.

“This is it,” he said. “This is what instant replay will be and it will not be expanded. … Not as long as I’m commissioner.”

So, there you go. Selig believes – and the players’ and umpires’ unions eventually came around – that the configurations of ballparks and the available technologies left him little choice. Carlos Delgado hits a foul pole at Yankee Stadium on a Sunday night, does it on national television and, hey, MLB starts laying wire.

And now, if we’re to believe the men who designed the system, not only do we get the correct call, but it allows the umpires to come to a conclusion quicker than, as Selig mentioned, “in a difficult situation where they just look at each other.”

Yeah, that rarely solves anything.

“The system is so good and so efficient,” Selig said, “I guess you have to ask yourself, ‘Why wouldn’t we do it this way?’ ”

There are some concerns, though not many, which is one of the benefits to being the last ones aboard the instant replay bus.

For one, the crew chief deems a play “disputed.” OK.

As one wary baseball observer said, “What’s disputed? Like, mildly disputed? Vehemently? Vociferously?”

I believe spittle should be involved. No projectile spittle, no replay.

On the Delgado call in the Bronx, Mike Reilly, the third-base umpire that night, initially got the call right. The other three umpires changed his mind. Presumably, a disagreement among umpires constitutes a dispute, particularly if, for example, Joe Girardi is shooting spittle from the first-base dugout.

For another, baseball must be putting some faith in the directors and producers for the networks who televise the games. Every camera is supposed to be in play, up and running, pointed correctly. Some of the networks are owned by the ballclubs they televise. Could be dicey. Could even be corrupt.

Said our observer: “That director might have $2,000 on the game that night.”

More likely, these are well-trained, honest people who’ll do the right thing, who’ll simply be a part of the process. I believe that. But baseball is just crawling out from one of the worst perception crises in sports history, and now a little piece of the game leaves the field, and it’s worth thinking about.

Ultimately, if baseball is right on this, we’ll hardly ever think about replay, assuming it is, as advertised, “instant.” About 20 home run calls were incorrect this season, which is a lot, but hardly a catastrophe. Remember, until now, these little errors in judgment were, uh, part of the game. Not anymore.

Inspired by technology and dragged into the new millennium, Selig tired of seeing umpires dashing into the outfield, trying to pick a baseball out of the sky from 200 feet away. Fair enough. It might be clumsy at first. The umpires might get a few wrong anyway. Pitchers could ice over. But, it’ll work.

“I’m very confident about this,” Selig said. “There’s nothing perfect in life.”

Yeah, everything has a little spittle on it.

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