Instant replay one more unneeded change in baseball

Detroit manager Jim Leyland makes a point with an umpire.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland makes a point with an umpire.

Trying to perfect baseball is a fool’s endeavor.

Baseball was doing just fine for about a century before the owners and their commissioner started trying to make it more like other American sports, diluting its essence.

Changes we really didn’t need include the designated hitter, divisional playoffs, interleague games, wild cards, the All-Star Game’s forced new purpose, and now…the creeping curse of instant replay.

Once baseball started allowing instant replay for home run calls, the push to expand it was inevitable, and soon we’ll have to endure it for fair/foul calls and trap plays vs. catches, then eventually for all safe/out calls, and someday even for balls and strikes. So you’d better get ready for games that are five and six hours long and a lot more of those annoying waits as umpires huddle around a TV monitor.

If technology exists, our culture is tempted to use it. And no logic can defeat it. Instant replay is a foolish quest for an unreachable precision. Don’t you see the irony in Bud Selig’s push for more instant replay following closely on the heels of the umpires blowing a home-run call even after they saw the replay?

Baseball is by its nature an endeavor that eludes the quest for perfection. In baseball, you fail more than you succeed, because the tasks are so difficult. Umpires’ jobs are just as hard, and frequent failure at them is also an inevitable part of the game.

Baseball mocks attempts to tame it, to rob it of its inherent serendipity.

What makes a no-hitter a huge achievement is the difficulty of retiring twenty-seven batters who can put the ball into play somewhere. It’s damned hard to get Joe Mauer out four times in a game. Just ask Anibal Sanchez. The joy is in the pursuit of perfection, which is nearly always elusive. (But it sure would help if your manager thought to make defensive changes at third base and center field when you are pitching a no-no in a blow-out!)

So please, Bud Selig, stop trying to make baseball conform to the demands of modern culture’s obsession with virtual reality. Sometimes the old way is better. Stick to vinyl.

That said, a few procedural matters that have nothing to do with the actual game could be changed.

For example: why is five innings a magic number? Watching the agony of Justin Verlander in Cleveland as the tarp came on the field, I pondered how nonsensical both the rainout rules and the pitcher win rule are.

If I were commish, all games suspended by weather would be resumed at the point of suspension and completed later. No game should be official until nine innings are played, even if it means you play early the next morning and a team flight is delayed. (I suppose you could have a mercy rule exception to avoid sending everybody back out to finish a blow-out: something like five runs after eight innings, eight after seven, and ten after five or six. I mean, if a game is that lopsided and it’s raining, umps are apt to call for the tarp anyway and pull the plug.)

Another thing: Why does a starting pitcher have to go five innings to get credit for a win? Well, just because someone long ago made up an arbitrary rule. Which opens up a larger question: Aren’t pitcher wins and losses a ridiculous statistic anyway?

Consider this: you can pitch nine innings, give up no earned runs, and not get the win. You can pitch five innings, give up eight earned runs, and get the win. You can pitch a third of an inning, give up three runs, and get the win.

No other stat is as team-dependent and as unreliable as a measurement of performance yet is still so popular. (Yes, you can make the Jack Morris argument, and say a great pitcher pitches to the score, and that may be true, but it doesn’t invalidate the point.) The guy with the better W-L gets the Cy Young even though most voters know better (see David Price vs. Verlander, 2012). Because W-L is the first thing fans think about when evaluating pitchers. But it’s a badly flawed measurement.

I already ranted about saves in an earlier column. But pitcher wins and losses are just as misleading and irrational. If not abolished, I’d rather see them awarded by the official scorer; that would be no less ridiculous than the present system. Better yet, ditch them entirely. Use ERA, not such a bad measurement, and add in WHIP and WAR and K minus BB, and anything else you’re fond of.

The game would survive just fine, just as it did before the DH and wild cards.

7 replies on “Instant replay one more unneeded change in baseball

  • bolobill

    If a relief pitcher blows a save, that pitcher should not be able to then earn a win in that game.

    Get rid of interleague play. Get rid of the wild cards. Expand to 16 teams in each league with four four-team divisions. End the inane All-Star winner/home field advantage in the World Series (only Bud Selig could have thought of that). Expand the DH to include the National League.

  • Megan Wilson

    Michael I so agree with you on the game time!
    Baseball games are so lengthy as it is, even without the commercials and media injections of all the other sports. There are instances where there have been blown calls that it would be nice, but overall I think that it is a bad idea.

  • Del

    I almost completely disagree with this article. I think instant replay should be expanded. The umps blow to many calls. These players work their butts off to get a hit only to have an ump ruin it with a bad call on a close play. That being said I do not think it should be expanded to balls/strikes. The DH is absolutely necessary. Pitchers are easy outs, most simply cannot hit! Don’t like interleague play. Don’t care one way or the other about wild cards.

  • Cecilia

    While games would take longer with “instant” replay, they likely would not be that much longer. More likely, there would be some sort of a replay official, like in football, so that the umpires do not have to go off the field to review the video. Given that most plays are not that close, I’d be surprised if extra replay added a half-hour to the time of a game.

    I agree with the others in liking the D.H. When I’m paying $50 per ticket for a game, I am not paying to see some player do something that he hasn’t been taught to do since he was in high school. (I will make an exception for the very few times when the visiting team is so far behind that they send a position player to pitch. I remember that happening on April 22, 1984–I looked up the date, but I remember the game–when Tony LaRussa sent Mike Squires, his left-handed-throwing third-baseman and occasional catcher–to pitch the end of the eighth inning of a 9-1 loss to the Tigers.)

    I agree that interleague play is a bad idea. It started out as a gimmick, with the exception of the few–the very few–natural geographic rivalries. Putting interleague play in June inflated the attendance.

    I also certainly agree that having the All-Star game determine home field advantage for the World Series is a gimmick, and such an obvious one at that. It accomplished nothing.

    I’m no fan of wild cards, and I am really not fond of having two wild-card teams per league and a one-game playoff between those two teams. It is possible that a manager may have to decide to use his one-and-only ace in the play-in game or save him for the next series, knowing that the team does not get to that next series without winning the play-in game. but, that requires a team to have one true ace and a big drop in talent after him, plus it requires that that ace be ready to pitch at just the right time. That’s a lot of ifs. (Of course, the reason for two wild-card teams is really the money from an extra playoff game on television.)

  • Michael Betzold

    How did baseball survive so long without the DH and interleague play and the wild card? I’d go further and ask: why was it the national pastime then, and now just another sport with endless playoffs, player specialization, and officials reviewing their own judgments? I think Cecilia has the only answer needed: more money from TV. The two leagues are doomed to become two conferences and the DH ubiquitous.. More’s the pity. If you’ve ever managed even a simulation baseball replay game (like Strat-o-Matic), you know why the DH is an abomination–it takes away an essential element of managing strategy. I enjoy the mental aspects of baseball as much as the physical–and besides, a good sac bunt is just as satisfying as any other offensive play.

  • jazjef

    I would have to argue against you Michael. I see where you’re coming from, but the intent of instant replay is to remove unwanted ‘extraneous variability’ from the game, leaving only variability due to ‘player performance’ as the sole factor determining the outcome.

    Imagine if your MLB Network signal was poor quality sometimes and your games were hard/annoying to watch—and your cable company had line insulators available that they could install on your line that would remove the unwanted electromagnetic interference (EMI) you are experiencing. But they argue that ‘today’s modern technology in the form of those filters would render a harsh digital signal that would not be as pleasant as a signal mixed with ‘natural’ EMI and analog signal components’. You’d complain. You’d complain that you want to experience the ‘purity’ of the game and nothing more—and that you’re paying for the signal—not for the ‘interference’. You’d want to get rid of variability that does not contribute to the performance of your cable TV system. This is what instant replay does for sports.

    You’re Cherry-Picking things that you like and don’t like—you have no ‘true’ standard with respect to your position on instant replay. You indicate: “So you’d better get ready for games that are five and six hours long and a lot more of those annoying waits as umpires huddle around a TV monitor.” So making baseball conform to the ‘hurry-up’ and ‘instant gratification’ standards of our modern society is OK…. but making it “..conform to the demands of modern culture’s obsession with virtual reality” is bad? You need to clean up this contradiction before you can make a decent principled argument against instant replay.

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