Instant Replay in Baseball

3 Jun

Warning: this is a post about baseball. People who don’t like sports should stop reading. Derrick and other derrick-types should uninstall their browser, run a virus scan, and restart their computers. Safety first.

Some of you may or may not know that I am a baseball guy. When I stopped playing ball in college, there was a chasm in my life left unfilled where baseball once was. My recourse was to fill it with a stronger dedication to my MLB fandom, fantasy baseball, and lastly, umpiring little league baseball.

Many of you (I hope) will be familiar with the incident that happened last night in Detroit. The link is here, hopefully it will continue to work. You absolutely must watch it if you have not yet watched it.

Ironically, last night when it happened, I was actually out on the little league field umpiring a game.

This morning, I have heard all kinds of protestations and general inflamation about the whole event. People seem to think that instant replay should be brought into baseball to remedy situations and calls like this. I completely disagree.

This is a relatively unpopular position, since instant replay has been “successfully” integrated into football, and many people believe that it has a place in baseball. It is not a weak position, and there is a strong argument for it, since, like football, baseball is oftentimes a game of inches. However, as valid as that opinion might be, it is a wrong opinion. I will use more commas, to show you why.

I was watching some reaction to the fiasco last night on baseball tonight, and I happened to hear a text that was sent by Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay to one of the commentators. That text struck me a funny way. While I can’t find the exact text of the text, it said something to the effect of “My heart goes out to both Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce. Galarraga pitched a beautiful game and Joyce is one of the most professional and well-liked umpires in baseball. It is a shame that the game had to end this way.” Then he said something that really resonated with me: “This is the kind of thing that makes baseball so great”.

And it is a counterintuitive thought, that such a horrible experience could make for a sport which is so great. But I fully agree with Halladay. The pundits this morning were clamoring for instant replay because that is what is needed to “get the call right”. These are the same pundits who have never played baseball for a day in their life. Anybody who knows and loves baseball will agree that baseball isn’t always about getting the call right.

To me, what makes baseball so great is that it is a human game. That sounds absurd, I know, but I believe it. In baseball, if you fail 2/3 of the time, you are a great player. In baseball there are two outcomes for any one play: ball/strike, safe/out. No matter what, one player loses. And that is part of the human experience, dealing with failure. After losing in the third round of the state playoffs, when I was a sophomore in high school, I remember one of the coaches saying this exact thing. He said that life is a lot like baseball, though you don’t always know it. Most of the time you will fail. The best baseball players, and the best humans learn how to cope with that failure and use it to turn them into better people.

All this is to say that, like the players, umpires are human. They are usually perfect, and they rarely miss calls because they are good at what they do. They are still human. And that is a human element which is part of the game. Jim Joyce missed a call that he will always remember. Most of us will forget about it tomorrow, but Joyce will always look back and regret that mistake. To me, that is not sad but beautiful. It is part of baseball. It is part of the game.


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