An ardent Angels advocate and I once again exchanged views recently on the whole business of instant replays in baseball, here just a couple of weeks prior to the opening of the season. No consensus, of course. That would ruin everything. My friend is of the school that favors electronic participation in several parts of the game, including close calls on the bases and those that determine balls and strikes — with umpires, I’m guessing, either serving in an observer capacity or gone altogether.
Call me a traditionalist, but I completely enjoy the human element that the men in black add to the game, even to the extent where mistakes are made. It essentially makes the endeavor what it is.
Imagine relying on cameras and gadgets of one kind and another to make every call in the action, with accuracies down to hundredths of seconds and inches. Each and every play would be the province of a computer far from the field, with decisions displayed on one of the grand boards above the cheap seats. There would be a slight delay, of course, and then on we go.
Behind the plate and the catcher — or perhaps in a more precise position — would be a camera that gauges each pitch and declares it a ball or strike, and could conclude its deliberations with the announcement of a walk or a strikeout, should the turn at bat go that far. These decisions would also made from the Grand Umpire out in center field.
Meanwhile, watched carefully from yet another camera, a runner at first base attempts to steal second, and the result of that action is also announced from the GU.
Precise? Sure. Accurate? No question. But in a game among fallible humans? Hardly. The fact is, humans making and enforcing the rules of the game is what makes it, well, fun.( Remember what football used to be like before the instant replay came in? The play, as determined by the referees, stood, with no consultation that involved a computer.)
Frankly, I even dislike the use of second-guessing balls and strikes by means of a simulated strike zone on televised coverage. Prior to that, we decided for ourselves whether the pitch was a ball or a strike. Batters, away from the electronics, learn what any given umpire’s “strike zone” is after an inning or two and adjust accordingly.
Again, it’s a physical game among boys, not a pastime on a computer screen.
And more, if a manager was less than pleased with a “call,” to whom would he tender his complaint? Would he kick dirt on the computer that was secured within the bowels of the stadium? Would the crowd scream something on the order of “Pull the plug!!” (Would you add a modifier or two?)
Or try this on for size: A runner waits on first base. The batter hits a high fly ball that the second baseman can easily catch — even as the computer tries to make up its mind whether or not to invoke the infield fly rule. The guy on first waits. Both managers wait. The crowd waits. Finally, the second baseman lets — we think — the ball drop, picks it up and throws it to the shortstop now covering second base, and who relays the ball to first base. Double play — even as the computer finally calls it a fly to right field.
Six guys from the crowd go looking for the subterranean computer.
The story in the paper the next day…not even worth talking about. Oh, I don’t know.. something about trashing the mother board?
Sad stuff, and really not a difficult leap from the computer-based game that six-year-olds can now play on their iPads. Me, I happen to prefer the roar of the crowd and the always — as it should be — controversial participation of those ubiquitous men in black suits. Because truly, they are “players” as well, and they do care.
I’m reminded of a time I was up north of the city watching the dreaded Lancaster Jethawks at play. We had scored seats just four rows right behind home plate. And two rows behind me a guy was already expressing himself regarding the umpire’s calls. I turned around and looked at the guy, laughed, and then yelled, “Tell him what you think, pal, because he sure can hear you!” The umpire nodded his assent.