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I'm from Houston, a graduate of the University of Texas, a fan of the Houston Astros and Houston Texans. But this blog will be about the "greater sports", whatever that means.

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Umpires make mistakes, we just need to learn to live with it

Umpires like Mike Winters get more calls right than wrong
Fact: Umpires have been blowing calls for decades, just ask Earl Weaver, Leo Durocher, and Ty Cobb.

Fact: Umpires will continue to miss calls, probably several over the course of every game in baseball

Fact: Fans, players, owners deserve the best system in place to treat all fairly and honestly each and every game.

Based upon these three facts, I build the case why expanded instant replay is wrong for Major League Baseball.  I build this argument on these six tenets:

1) Even with instant replay reviews, humans have to interpret the video and still get it wrong.  Case in point, the Cleveland Indians controversial win against the Oakland A's this past week.  One would think that a slowed down video replay of the ball clearly hitting the railing above the yellow line would have led to an overturn, and one would be wrong.  I'd like to think this is a one-in-a-million scenario.  But how many NFL replays have you seen where it sure seemed like the fumble happened before the knee was down, but the ref comes out from under the hood and utters those magical words "the play stands as called"?  Or inconclusive evidence on a ball breaking the plane to the endzone? 

Fact: Instant replay reviews are still subject to human error

2) There is no "right size" for what plays fall under review or not.  As of now, it's home run only.  So by default a scoring play is in question.  However, there are more scoring plays such as tags at home plate, or even a force play at first on a double play in which a run scores.  So currently we only have a subset of scoring plays under review.  But the bigger picture is, every play in baseball could lead to a run.  Each ball/strike call changes the complexion of the at bat.  Every play that leads to a runner on base (or not) could be the difference between a no run inning, or a 4 or 5 run inning.

Fact: To fairly implement instant replay, every single call would have to be subject to a review

3) Umpires actually do get the calls right about 98% - 99% of the time.  It's the 1% they don't get right that make headlines.  The Jim Joyce call to derail Armando Galarraga's perfect game bid, the Don Denkinger call in the 1985 World Series, the missed call by outfield umpire Rich Garcia when Jeffrey Maier interfered with a fly ball over Tony Tarasco's head in a playoff game.  These exceptions are fun to talk about, and will literally go down in baseball lore.  But to implement an expanded replay review system for these exceptions will erode the ebb and flow of the game.  Umpires get right the majority of  about 200 pitches that aren't in play, 51-54 "out" calls per game, another few dozen safe calls per game, even foul balls, etc.

Fact: Umpires get almost all the calls right, and for the most part, act in the best interest of fairness.

4) Judgment calls would be no more clear with replay review than otherwise.  I'm talking about infield fly rule (which played a major factor in the 2012 Wild Card game), fan interference on a ball near the wall (think about Steve Bartman), or the lefty balk move (exactly where is that mythical 45 degree line).

Fact: Some calls just aren't reviewable no matter how many camera angles you have.

5) Some unwritten rules are applied (and accepted) and we don't want those reviewed.  For instance, the middle infielder leaping off the bag a split second early at second base to turn two (on a throw that didn't pull him off).  A middle infielder muffing the ball on the same turn which is ruled an out and drop on the next throw.  The 3-0 fastball that's kind of close to the plate but given to the pitcher to continue the at bat.  These are things that are accepted and generally good for the game.

Fact: Expanded instant replay reviews could have an unintended consequence of forcing accepted calls into a review state

6) Replay reviews take time.  In a game that struggles to keep a 3 hour pace (to the point that umpires are timed for their games, pitchers are told to hurry it up, etc.), more replays could really bog down the fan experience.  Any fan who attends a game in which a review takes place has been annoyed at the minute or three delay for sometimes a meaningless call, or one that should have been done right the first time.  Then sometimes isn't overturned anyway.

Fact: Expanded instant replay reviews would add ~5 minutes per game on average

Baseball has made it through 107 seasons ending in World Series, there is no reason to start now.  Especially for the 1% of calls that are actually missed, a fraction of that egregiously.  Only a rare few actually affect the outcome of the game.  And for those, there was always room for the team to overcome it.  We don't even know if the Oakland A's home run, which would have tied it up, would have changed the outcome.  Nor the Tarasco catch, nor the Denkinger call.  But they happened, become stuff of legend, and we move on.  If anything, the game could benefit by a more thorough review of the humans who are in the umpiring uniforms, not augmenting them with machines to make up for their shortcomings.

Follow me on Twitter @lhd_on_sports

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