Massive update for MLB

By Ryan Dixon

Finally! Major League Baseball will no longer succumb to a “best guess” by umpires as to whether a batted ball travels over the fence. Aug. 28 marked the first day umpires were permitted to start using video assistance when unsure on “boundary calls.” While it’s a little weird for MLB replay to spawn near the end of a regular season, I’m all for it.

These boundary calls all have a common denominator, the home run. If umps aren’t sure the ball went over the fence, they can double-check it. If they aren’t sure whether a fan interfered with a potential home run, they can double-check that. If the men in blue can’t tell if a deep fly was fair or foul, they can check that too. In case you were wondering, there wouldn’t have been replay on the infamous Bartman play.

All I can say is it’s about time. The NFL, NHL and NBA all have systems in place to review plays. The goal is to be as close to perfect as possible, and technology can help officials become just that. No one wants their team to lose a game because of a blown call. But the umpires aren’t to blame entirely. They have a tough job. On every deep fly they are expected to run out and keep track of the ball and make an instant decision. Most of the time, they still end up a couple of hundred feet away from the play. Plus, take into account the relatively new stadiums. They aren’t your traditional cookie-cutter ballparks, and oddly shaped stadiums make it difficult for umpires to follow boundary lines and walls. Houston’s Minute Maid Park has a hill and a flag pole for fun, while Bernie the Brewer mans his slide in the left-field stands at Miller Park.

It’s only been a week since instant replay’s inception into baseball, and we’ve already seen its first use. Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez pulled a deep home run down the left field line that hit the catwalk behind the foul pole in Wednesday night’s game at Tropicana Field against the Rays. The placement of Rodriguez’s blast immediately instigated protest from Tampa Bay.

“If there had been no argument, obviously we wouldn’t have because all four of us believed the call was correct on the field,” umpire crew chief Charlie Reliford told ESPN. “Because (Rays’ manager Joe Maddon) disputed it, and it was very close, and now the technology is in place, we used it.”

The process took only two minutes and 15 seconds to verify that A-Rod’s home run was legit. That seems pretty reasonable when compared to the alternative to instant replay – a manager storming onto the field and yelling until he’s red in the face and ejected. Yes, it’s more entertaining, but it takes longer than two minutes and little is accomplished. At least replay will verify or reverse the call to make it right.

Up until last week, Major League Baseball was happy to be stuck in its technological Stone Age. In an era of countless camera angles and super-slow motion, it only makes sense to provide umpires with the same information the average fan can see from the living room. I was tired of seeing four men standing around, scratching their heads before guessing if the ball actually went over the fence or not.

“Like everything else in life, there are times that you have to make an adjustment,” MLB commissioner Bud Selig told ESPN last week. “My opposition to unlimited instant replay is still very much in play. I really think that the game has prospered for well over a century now doing things the way we did it.”

Baseball’s changing. Deal with it.

Selig brings up another issue, though – if, how and when would baseball expand instant replay? Granted, there has yet to be a case for umps to use replay, but you can’t erase a precedent. It’s only a matter of time until fans, managers and players will argue, ‘We have replay on home runs, why not safe/out and strike/ball calls?’

Let’s be real. No one wants an eight-hour baseball game with umps or QuesTec analyzing every pitch. But the idea of replaying more than just boundary calls is very appealing. Once again, the goal is for every call to be made correctly. I appreciate baseball’s human element, but the sport has to be willing to evolve.

While boundary call replays aren’t susceptible to “challenges,” I believe future replay could run that way. Filing a protest on a “blown call” doesn’t do anything for a team anyway. I think it would be interesting to arm a manager with a couple of official challenges for safe/out calls on the base paths, including plays at the plate. That way, Lou Piniella wouldn’t have to kick dirt, Ozzie Guillen wouldn’t chuck his lineup card, and those like former Pirates’ manager Lloyd McClendon wouldn’t walk off the field with first base … and throw it.

Piniella sounds like he would love the idea of challenging umpires.

“I’d love to be able to throw a red hankie or a green hankie. Imagine being able to throw something on the field and not be ejected,” Piniella told ESPN. “I shouldn’t say it’s not going to work, but this could turn into a little bit of a fiasco initially.”

It might be a bit of an annoyance to baseball purists, but there’s nothing wrong with making the right call.

Ryan Dixon is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]