The case against instant replay in Major League Baseball.
by: Michael Kramer

Compared to other professional sports, baseball is incredibly slow paced. For both the casual and the most die-hard fans, the majority of moments in a game provide little excitement. We can stop watching for a few innings and miss little that offers any excitement. Well, we might not see a home run, but in this day and age, it’s more likely we miss strikeouts. In general, the average MLB probably has a handful of exciting moments. As mentioned in the in famous Ken Burns baseball documentary, the majority of the game is spent pondering inaction. Over the past few decades, whether knowingly or unknowingly to each individual, our brain chemistries have changed  our attention spans have long since declined. Each of us now crave instant gratification and entertainment. Those factors combined with the fact that the average MLB game only contains about maybe thirty-seconds of actual excitement, one need only watch a short clip of highlights on an electronic device to get a concise summary of a game. In the majority of instances, the highlight reel shows maybe a few home runs being hit. Of course, regardless of the score or importance of a game, when watching games in person at the statdium when a hometown player hits a home run, everybody at the park stands up and cheers. The home run is a simple event of which even somebody with almost zero understanding of the game understands as important, because the ball went far, and over the fence. Although admirable, you can only see so many home runs before the excitement wanes, and our desire for excitement looks elsewhere.

In contrast to the home run, a ball put in play has some level of excitement, but about only twenty-five percent of batted balls end up as hits, of which the majority are singles that provide a low level of excitement as we often times cheer a hit to the outfield, watch the batter round first base, eyes wide just in case there's a bobble on the throw into second base.

I could go on about home runs, but that's a whole other article. Focusing in on replay, in all sports the referree or umpire’s duty is to enforce the rules of the game. Like a cop enforces the law, the power is bestowed upon them. In most cases, the umpire’s responsibilities and actions go unnoticed on a daily basis. With instant replay on the bases, only the home-plate umpire's ball and strike calls matter. 

The “bang-bang” plays that make a baseball game entertaining are few and far between. For each individual player, a close play and umpire's call can be for better or worse. As an example, let’s imagine a hitter hasn’t had a hit in twenty consecutive at bats. As he hits a slow-rolling dribbler down the third-base line, he kicks it into high gear, finding speed he thought he never had to try and get just that one hit to lift the curse he’s been put under. As the first baseman catches the ball the umpire flashes the safe single. At last! The euphoria and relief the runner feels hits him as at last the curse is over! Moments after, the opposing manager calls for the earmuffs and wants the play reviewed. Buzzkill! Replay shows the runner was out, the momentary high turns to even a lower low for the runner as curse remains.

If the runner was actually out, but replay wasn’t able to change the call, then the guy got lucky. Luck is interwoven into not only the game but also life. When one gets lucky, it’s something to cherish and enjoy because it’s as if the universe aligned for just that tiny moment and what was expected to happen did not to the benefit of one or many. The stars can align and life changes for the better due to happen chance and randomness. For those of you who are married or have/had significant others, think back to when both you met. Odds are there was luck involved and that you and your partner crossed paths at just the right moment, and the rest was history. If you would have walked in another direction, looked right instead of left, or did even the slightest thing differently, your entire life would be different.

Luck is a huge part of life and the moment it happens it's something to be cherished. How great is it when somebody shouts "well, his fortunes turned, as he got lucky!"

As frustrating and demoralizing it is for the players and fans of one team when an umpire misses a call, it's equally if not more satisfying and enjoyable for those who benefit from the call.

Before replay, quite often we would see the manager run frantically out of the dugout to confront an umpire about a call. The spectacle of managers confronting umpires has always been a part of the game. It's a shock to all viewers when an always stoic manager, doing nothing more than watching the action and perhaps moving his finger across his face giving signs to the catch, comes alive to argue with the umpire. If the argument is animated, often the grand conclusion is the umpire winding up, pointing at the coach, and screaming "you're out of here!" In so many instances, we hear the announcers say "he’s already been tossed, but he’s going to get his moneys worth" before the manager retreats to the dugout, walks up the tunnel, to a standing ovation and round of applause from the crowd.

Admit it! You cannot help but smile when a player or manager screams into the face of the umpire, knowing full well the call cannot be overturned. Despite all the anger that resides in the coach, he knows full well that he can't lay a hand on him. Imagine you’re at a bar or in the stands at a game witnessing two obviously drunk people jawing at each other. With onlookers staring wild eyed and some with cellphones recording the action to not miss what might be the main event of an impromptu boxing match of moment in time must be captured for the enjoyment of watchers. Unless security or cooler heads prevail and the situation is defused, once fists fly and hay makers start landing, it’s a story to remember and tell for the rest of your life! With the coach and umpire exchange, that’s not simply not a possibility. Well, it is, but it's taken for granted by all involved that there will be no physical violence.

Where else other than in baseball, does a heated argument take place with it completely understood that no physical altercation or even human contact between two people will result? Nowhere! There is no other sport where something like this happens.

When we see the angry version of the manager screaming at an umpire, it's exhilarating, a break from the mundane, and to myself and many others like me, flat out hilarious! As a Brewers fan, when manager Craig Counsell's neck vein is out, it's laughable and a site to behold!


Sometimes, you even see it coming. When a team is on a losing streak, players look defeated, tired, and seem to be lallygagging around the field. Fans of the team all feel it together as the tension and frustration grows to a breaking point. The next time an umpire makes a questionable call, the inevitable happens. Who among us hasn’t imagined we were an umpire ejecting a player and demonstrated how we would throw somebody out of a game? I imagine if you haven’t, you’re in the minority.

Getting ejected, running out onto the field, and screaming at a manager isn’t just expected during the course of a season by a coach, it’s mandatory. Umpires know it’s coming, part of the job, and they deal with it like professionals often staring stone faced taking the brunt of the verbal abuse knowing full well the manager screaming at him is caught up in the moment. Although sometimes the umpire will scream back, it’s rare. Players, coaches, and umpires alike know it’s part of the game and what happens on the field stays on the field. Case in point, the next day when exchanging lineup cards there's no hold over from the night before, and at times I bet they share a laugh.

The arguments and ejections make the game fun and at times can serve a greater purpose because the result can fire up the team and change their fortunes for the better. Since the dawn of replay, we unfortunately don't have the action on the bases. Nowadays, it's usually only balls and strikes, check swings, or other extremely rare plays that aren’t able to be reviewed.

As "robot umps" loom on the horizon and in all likelihood will be implemented, not only do we lose the bang-bang strike or ball call, we lose the human element. The nature of the game is forever altered, as the one-shot chance to get it a call correct becomes a thing of the past. The moment one gets lucky from a missed call is over. Without the element of sudden luck, the exhilarating split second of action when ones fortunes can change is lost.

Furthermore, in general the in-game adjustments made by hitters and pitchers alike is history. What the umpire is or is not calling as strikes in a given game has been woven into the game since the first umpire lined up behind the catcher. The one-person behind home plate, the judge, juror, and executioner forever inherent to our national pastime is lost for eternity, as the humanity we all share is sacrificed to technology.

The scene below from the 1991 movie The Hard Way often flashes into my mind. I feel it exemplifies what life is all about. As detective John Moss explains to Hollywood actor Nick Lang who was following him to get real-life experience to prepare for a role in an upcoming movie, we see how the split-second events that happen in the the blink of an can dramatically change the course of history. Indeed, throughout our lives, we don't get a chance go back in time, watch a super-slow motion replay, and get a do over. Whatever happened, happened, and whatever will be, will be.

"You're not gonna learn what it means to be a cop by eating hot dogs and picking your teeth and asking stupid questions. We live this job. It's something we are, not something we do! Every time a cop walks up to a car and has to give a speeding ticket, he knows he may have to kill someone or be killed himself. That's not something you step into by strapping on a rubber gun and riding around all day. You get to go back to your million dollar beach house and your bimbos and your blow jobs and you get 17 takes to get it right. We get one take. It lasts our whole lives. We mess it up and we're dead!"

I'm not naive and of course know that replay will never be banned completely. As history shows us, once it’s in, it’s in forever. It’s not like the players, owners, and umpires will ever go back and agree that safe and out calls no longer need review.

Sadly, I fully expect robot umps to be fully implemented. The writing has been on the wall since home runs started getting reviewed and there’s no eraser that has or ever will erase what soon after was and now will be etched in stone. No longer will tweets and screen shots of what umpires missed with balls and strikes be up for discussion. Angel Hernandez's strike zone will no longer make him trend on Twitter. Managers will seldom be ejected, players won't turn around and make facial expressions, no adaptation to the strike zone will exist, and most importantly, the pitch-to-pitch action on the field will no longer offer us that split-second moment when one eagerly awaits the call. Unfortunately, players and fans will anticipate the replay decision more than the exhilarating split second decision that effects the course of human history.

The human equation will not exist, players themselves are expected to be professionals, naturally robotic and unemotional, and the play on the field with robot umps is going to result in robot players. Anti-replay enthusiasts like myself and maybe yourself after reading through my aforementioned spewed out yet organized writing might have hope the seemingly unavoidable never gets implemented into the game.

The only major change to baseball we now need is to stop changing the game. Indeed, we want to speed up the game to adapt for our culture of short attention spans. But, baseball is one thing that should not adapt as the nature of the game has and never will be fast paced. The moments during a game where we are on the edge of our seats are something to cherish. The continual efforts of those looking speed up the game to fit our modern-day lifestyles is a futile endeavor, as by it’s nature, the game cannot be sped up. Rather than change the game to adapt to a changing society, society itself must adapt back to the game. Of course, that's wishful thinking, but I can dream.