Replay it Again, Bud

bdslgIn a few weeks my beloved New York Yankees will once again take the field for another opening day, one that brings many changes. Gone are the suspended Alex Rodriguez, the glorious game-ender Mariano Rivera and my personal favorite, Curtis Granderson, who has made the cross-town trip to the New York Mets. Gone too, after this year will be the captain, Derek Jeter, whose season-long goodbye will no doubt draw many tears from Yankee fans and haters alike who will miss his classy presence on the diamond. 

Yes, there will be changes in the Bronx, but there are wider and much more nefarious changes going on in baseball in general; not the least of which is the expanded use of instant replay. Now, some may argue that the use of replay to determine home run calls has been a boon to the game, so letting the eyes in the sky overrule the eyes of the umps will produce a ‘fairer’ game. But what game will that be? Surely not baseball as we know it. As I wrote over five years ago when MLB first toyed with the idea of instant replay: 

Even without instant replay, football referees—like those in hockey and basketball—are more or less like traffic cops who from time to time interrupt the organized chaos around them. But the baseball umpire controls nearly every aspect of the game. His decisions effect every pitch, hit and catch since he, in a way, determines whether or not the ball will even be put in play because he is the arbiter of all he surveys. 

Since the very length of a game often depends on his decisions, particularly those concerning the strike zone, the official Rules of Baseball state that these decisions cannot even be argued or appealed to other umpires, let alone be set aside. In other words, the baseball umpire enjoys a prominence above all other sports officials in that his authority is essentially perceived to be beyond question. Any use of instant replay would diminish this elevated status. 

And as is usual in the realm of radical and progressive policy-making, the new rules are illogical and irrational. After all, if the reason for instant replay is “to get the call right,” how in heck can a manager’s appeals be limited? Under the new rules, a manager gets one review per game; two, if he is proved right on the first one. And this too makes little sense since, there are sometimes more than two calls on which a game can turn. 

But perhaps the worst part of the new rules is that the ultimate arbiter of a disputed call will be a Replay Official conveniently (and safely) stashed away in a dark room in New York, surrounded not by the smell of hot dogs and the sound of screaming fans, but with a bank of monitors. Yes, that’s right: unlike their NFL brethren, the on-field umpires will have no say in the review decision. 

But not to worry, Bud “Lite” Selig and his happy team of innovators have more destruction in store for the grand old game.  It seems that, like dedicated nanny-state reformers everywhere, the “safety” of the players is the impetus for regulations, like the ‘Rule 7.13, which will be used on an experimental basis this year to prevent what MLB calls “egregious” collisions at home plate. 

This rule, sure to cause more problems than it solves, says that a catcher cannot block the plate without the ball, while a runner must proceed in a “direct line” to the dish; with the mitigating factor being “whether he (the runner) lowered his shoulder or used his hands, elbows or arms when approaching the catcher.” Good luck with that. Imagine that a runner approaches a catcher already in possession of the ball and cannot brace himself for the upcoming impact? Can you say: “egregious,” season-ending injury? 

To me, the implementation of this rule only emphasizes the lack of sliding techniques at the major league level. An accomplished baserunner even 30 years ago, would have a plodding catcher blocking the plate at his mercy. So, if baseball is really concerned, how about teaching runners the hook and fade-away slides? 

Comically, part of the new rule  states, “All calls will be based on the umpire’s judgment.” Except that this once indisputable and immutable judgment will now also be reviewable by remote officials stashed away in the New York office. But although MLB has stated that the collision rule, home run calls and any disputed plays after the seventh inning can also be generated by the Crew Chief, but there is little to suggest that, having endured the questioning of his staff, he would be likely to add insult to injury by passing the buck to the New York office. 

Again, an umpire without absolute control and authority over the game is a diminished super power who cannot hope to retain the respect of those whose behavior he hopes to influence…sound familiar?

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