Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Replay in Baseball: A Purist’s Perspective

I am an unrepentant baseball purist. Baseball, unlike any other American sport, lends itself to conservatism. Nearly 150 years ago, Walt Whitman noticed what made baseball so perfect from its creation when he called the game “the great Democratic sport”. In American football, ice hockey and basketball (as in politics and society), I am entirely in favor of progress. Ratifying rules and updating equipment to protect players; changing the dimensions of the playing surface and instituting replay rules to increase scoring; creating a three-point line, giving an extra step and allowing acrobatic slam dunks to improve the fan’s experience—all of these were for the betterment of each sport. However, baseball is different (and I have discussed baseball’s uniqueness elsewhere). Between the wooden bat and the leather mitt are the same 60 feet, 6 inches that lead me to believe that Babe Ruth would still be a slugger, Ted Williams a .400 hitter and Sandy Koufax untouchable if they played today. And, baseball has always been a game of scandals; so, we’ll tread through the steroids era as we did with the Black Sox and Pete Rose…

HOWEVER…, given last night’s call, which is being labeled as “the worst umpire call ever,” where home plate ump Jerry Meals called Atlanta’s Julio Lugo safe despite being clearly tagged by Pittsburgh catcher Michael McHenry a good six feet from a blocked plate, thus ending a 19-inning contest between two legitimate playoff contenders, I am seriously reconsidering my position on replay. Pair this with Jim Joyce robbing Armando Galarraga of a perfect game and no-hitter last June and I think there may be room for some replay (limited to basic objective calls: fair/foul, out/safe, trap/catch, homerun/not—and as long as ball/strike, balk, tag-up synchrony, sign-stealing, ball-scuffing, etc. didn’t creep in). Sure, I am a huge fan of the spontaneity of sport and feel that human error still has a role to play in officiating; still, with no horse in the race with Atlanta or Pittsburgh (or Detroit/Cleveland either, for that matter), I see these two calls as abominations to the sport. See for yourself, here.