Posted 07/30/2009 at 03:28 PM
There was a lot of uproar when MLB decided to go ahead with instant replay in a limited fashion this season, just on rare boundary calls. Baseball is and always will be an old-timers sport, in the sense that past traditions are held in high esteem and change is generally opposed. Forcing teams to change by tearing down classic ballparks to bring in ugly commercialized revenue edifices is one change that is apparently welcome but not much else is.
The use of replay will increase in the coming years and one of the main reasons is that umpires are too stubborn and want too much control of the game. Umpires deserve a lot of respect and it is a very difficult job and many managers and players cross the line in today's day and age. But umpires need to recognize how difficult the job is and realize that there is a reason that four umpires are used in every game.
However, the current system does not utilize all four sets of eyes in the game as the extra umpires only come into play when the current base umpire asks for help, and few umpires are ever willing to do that. On plays involving a batter the home plate umpire is always in charge and he is never required to ask for help even in many situations where he should. The other umpires will never pipe up in those situations either, as it would break the code and step on the toes of the home plate umpire.
In Thursday's game in Milwaukee, with two strikes, Washington second baseman Anderson Hernandez fouled a ball off that bounced in the dirt and hit umpire Joe West in the chest. It was an ugly lunging swing and Hernandez lost his bat in the process but he very clearly made contact. You would think that West, who was umpiring his 4,000th game, would know that a ball bouncing in the dirt would not bounce that high unless contact was made with the bat or the plate but he signaled for the strikeout. He certainly did not call on the 3rd base umpire who might have had a better look.
Washington manager Jim Riggleman came out to protest and for the most part seemed calm and polite in his tone, asking for West to simply ask for help on the call. West refused and Riggleman eventually walked away but on his way back to the dugout he stopped over to the third base umpire, who of course refused to say anything even though the look on his face made it clear that he saw the foul ball. West quickly tossed Riggleman and then subsequently called a very generous 3rd strike on the next Washington batter in the next at-bat and made several other questionable strike calls on Washington batters in the next few innings. Situations like this are common as umpires are human and can not control their emotions at times any better than the players or managers even though their outward appearance conceals it.
Thus replay will need to come into the game at a greater level at some point as the technology is there to get the play right. Those that are concerned about the pace of the game should take a look at the tennis system, which is very quick and rarely takes anything away from the pace of play. Waiting for managers and umpires to walk around and argue hurts the pace of the game, not to mention sets a bad example for young players, and adds an unflattering theatrical element to the game. It also perpetuates the old-timers reputation that has cost MLB so many young fans and will have serious financial repercussions in the years to come.