Home MLB Instant Replay: Case Three

Instant Replay: Case Three

by Matt Smith

The third use of instant replay in MLB occurred in last night’s game between the Twins and the Rays and it produced the first occasion in which the call on the field was reversed after review.  Carlos Pena had to wait at second base for five minutes, but finally he was able to complete his tour of the bases as his double became a home run.  On the negative side, it did take a relatively long time to arrive at the final decision.  On the positive side, it resulted in the correct decision being made. 

Does the positive outweigh the negative?  That’s down to personal opinion. 

The umpires are there to make decisions and they had to make a difficult one here.  They opted to call it fan interference, but the MLB.com report notes that a pool reporter questioned the umpires’ motives for doing so:

Davis was asked by a pool reporter if making the fan interference call was the safe call, knowing that they could go to instant replay.

“That’s not how we umpire,” Davis said. “We umpire to call them as we see them, and then the replay is obviously a tool we have at our disposal.”

It’s easy to suspect that the pool reporter might have been on to something with his line of questioning and, if so, then that’s a strong argument against the replay system.  We don’t want to be in a situation where the umpires are making different decisions now that they know there is a safety net.  The five minute delay felt like a long time for the players to be stood about doing nothing.  If that’s how long it takes to get the decision right, then it should only be used as a last resort and not as a safe way for the umpires to deal with any vaguely contentious home run call.

But if Davis says that this wasn’t the case then we have to take his word for it.  When you watch the play, you can appreciate that it was a difficult one for the umpires to call.  With the ball landing just over the outfield wall in right-centre, none of the officials were particularly close to it (nor could they have been); therefore none could have had an excellent view of whether the fan interfered before the ball left the yard or not.  They thought he had and so that was their decision.

The incident can probably be used by proponents on both sides of the argument to support their view.  Maybe it took too long and the umpires played it safe in the first instance?  Maybe it shows that umpires can get these difficult calls wrong when they only have one chance to look at it in real speed and that they should use the technology to make sure the decision is right?

In this case, ultimately you need to see it from Tampa Bay’s point of view.  Without the replay, they probably would have been denied a home run.  At this crucial time of the season, everyone should be glad that the correct decision was made, however it was reached.

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1 comment

Joe Gray September 20, 2008 - 1:04 pm

Some people describe baseball as being a slow game. I agree with this in some respects.

The steady crescendo of tension in a tied game is slow, but I would not want it to be any quicker.

The change-over of pitchers during an inning is slow, but then it provides time to reflect on the significance that the change might have on the game.

The 15-pitch at-bat is slow, but that it its very beauty.

At the same time, the game can turn in an instant, which is a vital aspect of its appeal to me. The most common form of such a change is a home run (if it’s an obvious blast off the bat with the bases loaded, fans will mentally add four runs to their team’s tally in less than a second).

I notice the speed of a home run as a scorer, since (as long as the batter does not milk the attention too much with a slow lap) I regularly find that the pitcher is throwing to the next batter up while I am still joining the dots and shading in the boxes on my sheet.

To have this type of delay for a home run is not an example of the good type of slowness that has made baseball the game it is. Still, I think its rarity is such that it will not bother me too much (and I am a strong believer in fair outcomes in the sporting arena).


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