An umpire's job is difficult and thankless. Thanks to the miracle of instant replay, however, we also know an umpire's job is also incredibly easy to screw up, even at the highest level (Major League Baseball) at the most important time (the playoffs).
Earlier this year, I called for expanded instant replay (and maybe even an automated strike zone) after the umps blew the call on the play of the year. We've had home runs replayed for a year and a half now; it seems to have gone pretty well. Without replay, A-Rod's World Series homer remains a double, Cole Hamels doesn't implode, and the Phillies win in five. (Perhaps this is a bit of conjecture on my part.)
But the stupidest thing about baseball replay (and pro football, and the NBA) is that the referees themselves have to go over to a television and make the decisions themselves. In baseball, they have to go run down the dugout steps to go watch the replay on a little hut. In football, they have a ridiculous hood.
Instant replay systems in American sports seem to be designed with one goal in mind: Let's not hurt the official's feelings. This is stupid. If an ump or ref doesn't want his feelings hurt, he can either (a) realize officiating is hard and live with making mistakes or (b) not make any damn mistakes.
My instant replay system is simple. It adds a new video replay umpire, who will be responsible for all disputed calls. It's so simple I can illustrate where the new ump will be using a simple field graphic (field used: Veterans Stadium).
Yes, the new ump will be somewhere not on the field! "But who will managers yell at?!" you'll ask, and I'll say, "No one, because most of the bad calls will be fixed by replay and we can finally end this stupid 'tradition' of managers getting in an umpire's face and calling him a cocksucker."
The replay ump will be somewhere in the stadium. He'll be able to talk to the umps on the field and maybe even have a direct line to the league office to ask questions if he gets confused. He'll have a direct line to the nearest concession stand so someone can bring him a soda if he gets thirsty. The umps can buzz him if they want a play reviewed, or the replay umpire can institute it himself. If the ump on the field has a problem with his call being overturned, he can go to hell.
Coaches won't get any challenges, because the replay ump (and his assistant, me) will make sure the close plays get reviewed, up in the booth. If there's no change needed, there might not even be a slowdown or stoppage in play. A quick check upstairs to see if that double was a homer... and, look, it wasn't, let's just have play continue. Just because pro football reviews are slow and painful doesn't mean baseball reviews need to be. With an extra ump doing the work (and me, whipping him to go faster), this system should be pretty good. We'll install extra cameras pointing at all the bases, too, just to keep this system as thorough as possible.
How much would this slow the game down? Undoubtedly, some. How much? Tim McCarver thinks roughly two hours. Someone with a sense of time (me) will go with: Five, ten minutes a game at most. Maybe -- maybe! -- fifteen if there are a bunch of particularly close calls. Look, baseball is a slow game already. Isn't doing things right better than doing things fast?
If you really want to speed up baseball, simply ban Jorge Posada from playing the sport ever again.
So what'll be up for review in this new system? Everything (except balls, strikes and balk calls, another matter entirely). Everything! Calls at first base. Fair/foul calls. Possible dropped fly balls. Calls at second base. Possible dropped third strikes. Calls at third base. Calls at home plate!
Right: The truth is, there really isn't much to review during a baseball game. and instituting replay could be extremely painless. Of course, baseball is not interested in even discussing expanded replay, for fear it would make so much sense they would have to do it.
I admit, I do not understand the traditionalists' approach. "We want those calls wrong!" they argue. To me, we should keep the good traditions (hot dogs, mascots, getting stoned in the parking lot before the game) and get rid of the bad ones (incorrect calls, ridiculously dirty batting helmets, Jorge Posada) in order to make the game better and more enjoyable.
But I should toss in a caveat about instant replay: In my research for this article (read: Googling for 2 minutes), I did come across a comment on this blog entry that summed up the anti-replay argument succinctly:
Ted Williams didn't need a video/computer assist to hit the damn ball, so why should umpires be saddled with such dubious "assistance" to make calls?
The video cameras are in on it, people. First they get their claws (err, tripods) on baseball, then they take over the world. Perhaps my replay plan isn't as good as I thought.