I had very strong feelings about Major League Baseball taking the power away from umpires when it came to deciding whether balls were fair or foul. Those feelings grew even stronger when the expansion of MLB instant replay was announced. Still, I decided to wait and see how things played out. I gave myself over a month to make sure that my first instinct wasn’t wrong, as it has been many times before. I didn’t want to write this article until I had time to properly see the way replay would work. Now, as we find ourselves in the final week of May, I can see that my instincts did not fail me.
I wouldn’t consider myself a purist by any means. I’m all for progress if it’s for the betterment of the game. Take Wrigley Field. While I think it’s a beautiful stadium and a vital part of baseball history, the facilities are so outdated that it can no longer serve its proper function for the players. It’s time for a change on the northside of Chicago, but that’s an article for another day. I also approve of replay in the NFL. The NFL has created a system in which replays are properly utilized and can fix essential calls. Plus, there’s already enough of a lag between action in the NFL that a couple extra minutes really doesn’t detract too much.
Obviously the break in the action really shouldn’t be an issue in baseball either, a sport that many view as the slowest of the major four. The goal is for replay review to only take 1:30 each. Through the first few weeks of the season, they were moving a notch slower than that, but the average of 2:15 is still far less intrusive than what the stripes of the NBA manage. But regardless of whether MLB review was taking two minutes or ten, it isn’t the pace of the game that matters here.
In those first few weeks, there were 47 challenges. 16 of those were overturned. Don’t get me wrong. That’s absolutely great. It’s a real shame for human error to effect the ultimate outcome of a game (though few, if any, of those 16 overturns were the deciding factor.) I don’t think that getting calls wrong is ever a good thing, but it was a part of the game that everyone learned to deal with. Baseball is a purely human game, away from time constraints and any other machinery. Wrong calls were made because humans make mistakes. Managers often disagreed. And how did they deal with that disagreement? By kicking dirt, tossing bases and screaming at the men in blue.
And that is what’s been lost from baseball.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a fan who goes to a game where a skipper got tossed and doesn’t remember it. Those angry ejections make for some of the best entertainment that can be had in sports. And that may be disappearing before our replay screen-watching eyes. According to Cork Gains of Business Insider, ejections are on pace to drop 46.0% from last year. If I’m being honest, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t end up being an even larger number than that. Relatively few managers were tossed for arguing balls and strikes in the past, since umpires have always been rather strict about that. Instead, they would argue plays in the field that really did affect the outcome of a game. Now, they can simply challenge those.
What of the Lou Piniellas? The Bobby Coxes? The managers who made their mark by letting umpires know exactly how bad the calls they made smelled. Is the game ever going to have such colorful managers again? I find it fairly hard to believe that’s possible with replay in place. Take first year skipper Rick Renteria, who was already tossed once this season. While Renteria is nowhere near the explosive personality of Piniella, there’s just no way he’ll ever reach that point when calls can simply be reviewed, and that’s a shame. When a team is doing really bad, there was at least always the hope that the manager would prefer to watch the game from the dugout. Now the only fireworks fans can look forward to are those that follow the game.
I can’t say for certain how this will affect ticket sales or win loss records, and in all honesty, it probably won’t at all. But I can say, with complete certainty, that the game has lost one of its most entertaining aspects. Perhaps I’m overly romanticizing the game I love, but as Brad Pitt said in Moneyball: “How can you not get romantic about baseball?”