27 August 2008

Instant Replay... (Cont'd)

Injustice in sports, the officiating of course, on any level, is just that... injustice. Whether in The Bigs or in Babe Ruth; in the NFL or in Pop Warner, the wrong call on a play can change the entire outcome of a game. As a high school lacrosse coach, it upsets me to watch poor (and even overzealous) officiating make an appearance in a game. I know what I put my kids through each and every day in practice and to watch an official take the game out of their hands, the hands of the players who work their tails off day in and day out simply for a taste of victory, is more infuriating than many things I come across in life.

So, one would think that I would be a huge proponent of instant replay in Major League Baseball. To tell you the truth, I'm not. It took me weeks to convince myself that replay for homerun calls was something that needed to be implemented. For some reason I hold baseball to this different standard than any other sport. To me, this sport is sacred... it's our national pastime... it's historic... it's a little bit of America sliced up into 27 outs each day... it's the human element of a basic game.

But, I'm no idiot.

Garrett Atkins hit what should have been a homerun in the 163rd regular season game of the 2007 campaign. A homerun hit in a game known for a questionable call at home plate. A "safe" call when Matt Holliday came barreling down the third base line, sliding head first into home plate. A play where the future NLCS MVP had his sights set on a man in pseudo-body armor. A play that began in the right hand of Padres' pitcher, Jake Peavy, en route to the barrel of Jamey Carroll's bat. A play that saw its way into the glove of Padres' outfielder, Brian Giles, and ended in the catcher's mitt of Michael Barrett. A play that ultimately ended with a gash on a chin and countless bottles of champagne being popped throughout the Mountain Time Zone, including one in the suite from which I watched the game in-person.

But this homerun, a ball sent screaming all the way to dead center field and hitting a row of seats in a handicap accessible row, bounced back into the field of play resulting in a heads-up double by Garrett Atkins. Though I remember this "double" as if it had happened yesterday, I vaguely remember the angst associated with the call. I think I might have even demanded instant replay to be implemented on the spot. My memory, however, was far from its sharpest as I found myself lost in the midst of a magical run to the World Series and the subsequent Budweiser ingestion associated with something of this magnitude. A good friend of mine and General Manager of Jackson's Sports Rock in Lower Downtown actually called this homerun prior to the pitch from Jake Peavy. This homerun, however, doesn't exist in the record books as though the Gods of Baseball knew that leaving this game tied would make for one helluva ending.

If the Rockies had lost this game, I might have been quicker to agree with the decision to introduce instant replay to the game.

My indecision was, and is, due to my fear of what might happen. The very second that the game cracks the door open for an advancement like replay, it faces threats of a possible invasion of a technological revolution. This game and its integrity need not to have each and every call criticized by high-definition cameras and snail's-pace slow-mo, but I fear that's what might happen.

What is the strongest argument for instant replay? From a common sense point of view, it is [simply] as follows: If a play can be called right, then it should be called right.

And I agree wholeheartedly. But this same section of the population will no-doubt have delegates parting ways with their "homerun only" party members in support of the idea of replay for calls at 1st base; for balls and strikes; for diving outfield snags; for players hit by pitches. It's amazing what a single bad call against the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Dodgers and the Cubs can do to wash the brains of an overwhelming majority.

Listen, calls need to be correct and players need to be rewarded for their accomplishments. They call football a game of inches, but in many ways baseball is just as critical. Ball vs. Strike; Fair vs. Foul; Safe vs. Out...

The human element of this simple game is something that makes our sport special, but the aforementioned situations can make-do without K-Zone and the yet-to-be-named 1st base dugout cam. Call me old fashioned, call me a traditionalist, but don't tell me that the game will be better, faster and more pure with increased dissection and real-time umpire evaluation outside of homerun calls.

And whatever you do, please don't tell me that implementing instant replay at THIS point in the season is fair, reasonable or even righteous. It's no different than mandating ten defensive players on the field or running the basepaths clockwise mid-season. But, it is what it is...

... and it is blasphemy.

- J.C.F.

Images borrowed from Fenway West and The Reality Check, respectively.

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