HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

November 27, 2006

Baseball could be next to use replays

By Jesse Menden

Could Major League Baseball be next to use instant replay?

Two weeks ago, at the General Manager Meetings in Florida, team executives asked the committee that oversees umpires to look into the possibility.

The committee will eventually make recommendations to the general managers on the feasibility and practicality of having instant replay.

It is a long ways from happening, but if baseball does use some sort of replay, it would be the last major sport to use it.

Replays are most widely used in the National Football League, where just about every other play needs to be reviewed. And even after a play is looked at 20 times, officials still get it wrong sometimes.

In the National Basketball Association, shots at the end of quarters are reviewed to make sure the ball left the shooter’s hand in time.

In the National Hockey League, almost every goal is reviewed, twice. It is looked at in the arena and also in a small bunker at the NHL headquarters in Toronto, where every goal scored in every game, passes through for approval.

A goal review is very efficient in the NHL. But it can get dragged out. Two weeks ago, when the Wild played at Nashville, a shootout save was reviewed for five minutes, killing the excitement.

NASCAR also uses replay. Most often, it is a tool for officials to hand out in-race and post-race penalites. It is also used to check cars to make sure all parts are attached, or if a car is missing a part.

Replay is something all of us are used to now because it has been around awhile.

We tolerate it like an annoying relative.

There are many cases where replays have worked efficiently, for example in hockey and basketball. But there are a few reasons why replay is not right for baseball.

First, instant replay is generally not so instant. Baseball games are long enough, without having another reason to drag things out. Minnesota Twins fans are lucky because Twins games usually don’t go much longer than two hour, 30 minutes.

Elsewhere, games regularly eclipse three hours. In today’s information society, it is very easy to turn the channel during a review, and never go back.

Second, human error is a part of the game. Even though strike zones are supposed to be consistent, they often are not. It is not practical to have a review for balls and strikes.

A human behind the plate has worked for this long, there is no reason to change it.

Besides, just think of all the Ron Gardenhire blow-ups fans would miss if he could not argue balls and strikes.

At this point, it does not appear many in baseball are for instant replay.

Commissioner Bud Selig has spoken out publicly many times, stating he is very much against it. But it is not up to him. The team owners are the ones that would have to vote it through to use it.

It is unclear whether the general managers are for or against replays. Not one objected to having the committee explore the ins and outs of it, but that does not mean they are for it, either.

One group that definitely is against replay is the umpires. Their union won’t allow the replay of close plays inside of stadiums. There is no way any umpire’s pride would allow them to get overturned on the field, whether they are right or not.

Instant replay will happen in baseball, but it might not be for awhile. Remember the controversy over the pine tar on Kenny Rogers’ hand during the World Series?

That created quite an uproar all over the country, even though it did not really affect the game.

Imagine a scenario where a home run is called foul by an umpire during a pivotal game of the World Series. It would be all over the media, and this subject would come up again.

If and when this happens, baseball will have no choice but to install instant replays on, at the very least, home runs.

Today’s ballparks are very confusing. Some outfield walls are so close to other objects that it is tough to tell if a ball went over or hit the top of the wall.

Outfields like Houston, where a line is painted to show where the wall stops, can be confusing. Often, you see players sprinting around the bases because they don’t know, themselves, if the ball they hit was a home run.

Baseball should institute replays for questionable home runs. But it needs to be tightly controlled and for home runs only.

Instant replay can be right for baseball, but only if it is strictly for home runs. That will still keep the human element that many want in the game. Also, it will prevent more potential controversy in a sport that has its share already.