Yes, the Major League Baseball season is over (congratulations to the San Francisco Giants franchise on its first World Series title in the Bay Area). But that doesn’t mean we have to stop talking baseball. In fact, there are already some interesting story lines developing for next season. So let’s talk about 2011.
Remember the “Imperfect Game” thrown by Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers? Well, so does the Commissioner’s Office. This offseason, Commissioner Bud Selig and his staff will undoubtedly consider expanding instant replay for the 2011 season. But should they expand it, or even consider expanding it? Should one game have such an effect on MLB’s governing body?
Galarraga’s lost perfect game was, after all, a doomsday scenario. A perfect game is the pinnacle of single-game performances for baseball players, and Jim Joyce ruined Galarraga’s feat at the very last moment possible. If Joyce calls the runner out, Galarraga is in the history books with one of only nineteen perfect games in more than 100 years of MLB history. The timing for a blown call could only be worse if it cost a team a spot in the playoffs or ended a team’s run in the playoffs. Perhaps, then, the Commissioner’s talk about expanding instant replay is an overreaction.
Maybe it isn’t, though. We have all of this fantastic technology, so why not put it to good use? As one sports law professor notes on the Sports Law Blog, the fans in the stadium and at home already get to watch instant replays. It certainly seems logical to let the umpires watch them too.
The issue, however, is where to draw the line. In addition to close plays in the field, fans often get to watch instant replays of ball and strike calls. Does that mean that umpires should be able to review these calls with instant replay? Most people would agree that such a result would be terrible for baseball. Games not only would be unbearably slow, but also would lack their distinct human element. At some point, baseball wouldn’t need umpires on the field anymore; they could sit in the press box and use a computer to make the proper calls.
There is a happy medium, and I would argue that MLB has already found it. The current instant replay structure allows umpires to review fly balls to determine if they are foul or homeruns. This structure assists umpires in an area with which they struggled because, let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to see the very edge of the fence from the infield. Everything that happens on the infield, however, is right in front of the umpires; arguably, this is mostly true for plays in the outfield as well. As such, umpires don’t need technological assistance on the typical play. Thus, the current system draws a line at the edge of the umpires’ sensory abilities, striking a perfect balance between human and technological performance.
So, Commissioner Selig, feel free to consider instant replay expansion. But please, remember the human element, and remember to evaluate the success of the current system.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what any of this has to do with the law, check out articles concerning the judge-umpire analogy