Friday, August 16, 2013

MLB's coming replay fiasco

Bud Selig prays that replay
will make blown calls go away. 
The announcement Thursday of MLB's plan for enhanced replay review of all calls other than balls and strikes — a plan that hinges on managerial challenges — was greeted with predictable criticism.

That the criticism is predictable doesn't lessen its validity. And valid criticism isn't necessarily reason to junk a proposal or an existing system.

The current umpires aren't perfect — but I am certain that the quality and consistency of umpiring is much better now than it was 40 years ago. Better isn't perfect, however, and we cling to the illusion that perfection is attainable.

It isn't, not by mere human beings, and not by systems designed by human beings.

The plan put before the public Thursday (which requires the agreement of both the players union and the umpires union) isn't going to solve the "problem" of missed calls changing the outcome of games, and it is an invitation to abuse by managers.

Point One: Games are decided in the early innings as often as they are late, no matter that we tend to buy into the narrative of late-inning drama, so why limit the challenges early in games and open the spigot late?

Point Two: As I said here some time ago: Managers are not interested in getting the call right. They are interested in getting the call to go their way. Putting them in charge of triggering the system to get the calls right is a blunder. They are, by definition, not interested in the goal. Managers will use replay challenges frivolously — to gain time to warm up a relief pitcher or to break the opposition pitcher's rhythm.

To be fair, the booth-oriented proposal — championed by Craig Calcaterra, author of the first link above, and others — is flawed as well. That idea calls for a fifth umpire off the field with access to replays who would alert the field crew to incorrect calls.

The problem with that idea is obvious to anybody who really pays attention to telecasts: The definitive replay is almost never the first one shown. As low as my regard for the various permutations of Fox Sports and ESPN are — and that regard sinks lower on a regular basis — I doubt that's the result of  incompetence. I think it's technological. The first replay is always the game replay, because that's the one the producer can access instantly. The shot that is focused on the right base at just the right angle — that takes some time to dig up.

So then what happens? The game stops dead every time anybody thinks a call might possibly be overturned.

Nobody can make the umpires perfect. And nobody can dream up a perfect review system. The best we can do is chose the flaws we live with.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed! Leave The Flawed System In Place. Change Is Not Better, Just Different.