KING SALOMON’S COURT: MLB needs to expand replay
The MLB postseason is in full swing, and that means every momentum-shifting play goes through even greater scrutiny – including the umpires’ calls.
Being a professional baseball umpire is far from easy. They all spend at least several years in the minor leagues for little pay, and even if they are lucky enough to make it to the pros, they’ll be second-guessed left and right by players and managers on a daily basis.
Maybe the worst thing that can happen to an umpire is blowing a big call. Players, owners and fans alike can become livid, particularly if the call is perceived to have cost a team a win. Just ask Don Denkinger, who received death threats after blowing a call during the 1985 World Series.
That might be an extreme example, but don’t think for one moment that if Denkinger had a chance to do it over again that he wouldn’t jump at the opportunity.
He wouldn’t be alone either. This year, umps under scrutiny include Phil Cuzzi, who called a fair ball foul in a key situation during the Minnesota Twins- New York Yankees American League Division Series, and Tim McClelland, who botched two calls during Game 4 of the Los Angeles Angels-Yankees American League Championship Series.
What’s sad though is that these are correctable mistakes. Umpires aren’t robots and will naturally make errors. Instant replay, which the MLB has used since 2008, could easily be extended to make sure balls are fair or foul, not only to cover home runs and to check if players are safe or out on the bases.
The NFL and the NBA went through the same kind of scrutiny before implementing instant replay. Now, despite occasional hiccups, the consensus is that both games’ products are better for it.
The main concern of Bud Selig and other baseball officials is that instant replay would make games longer than they already are. This is a fair point; games often last at least three hours, and broadcasters in particular want to speed things up. One would’ also have to wonder if, during a 10-2 blowout in August, fans are willing to tolerate a stoppage to check on a line drive single.
That leaves the task at hand: to find a middle ground. During the 162-game season, managers could be allowed to make one challenge per game. This limited use would ensure that managers use their challenges wisely.
In the postseason, when millions of fans are watching, challenges could be increased to two per game, and umpires could use their discretion to check on any other calls, excluding balls and strikes.
The MLB has long touted the human element of baseball as a reason for keeping instant replay out. That might’ve made sense when the technology didn’t exist, but it is no longer an acceptable excuse, especially given how much is at stake during playoff games.
Ensuring that umpires’ make correct calls’ won’t fix all of baseball’s problems overnight, but it will improve the integrity of the game. Even in this steroid era, that still means something.