By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) There is absolutely nothing romantic about injustice.
I’m still waiting for a single credible argument against widely expanded use of instant replay in baseball to get critical calls right, since the two usually offered are embarrassingly limp.
“The ‘human element’ has always been part of the fabric of the game, and that shouldn’t change.”
And “the games will take too long with all the delays to look at the replays.”
First, the “human element” that is just a euphemism for “bad umpiring” is exactly what needs to be eradicated. Ensuring a correct call will do nothing to threaten any nostalgist’s bucolic happiness, and if it does I’ll make you a deal: if your house catches on fire, we’ll put it out the old-fashioned, conventional, human way by forming a bucket brigade of helpful townsfolk. Put the phone down. No 911 for you.
You also have to forfeit your dishwasher, since it’s not traditional and old-timey enough. And take those clothes down to the crick for a scrubbin’ and hang ‘em out to dry — I confiscated your Whirlpool front-loaders because they are scary, soulless robots.
Notice that any backwards desire to celebrate avoidable imperfection is always expressed in soft-focus form as part of the discussion, and never in the actual moment when some fat old ump royally derps a call. When replays show immediately how wrong it is, nobody in the room says “Awww, isn’t that cute? That human element is so nice, and that’s why I love baseball.”
And if a game adds a couple minutes to check the video, that’s fine. We can stop with the current, silly spectacle of the four-man crew waddling off the field to huddle out of sight at a monitor, only to emerge with their grand pronouncement. Do it like the NHL does, with centrally-located officials at an MLB office, reviewing the tape and getting it right.
If the umpires have a problem with any of this, buy them off by hiring an extra guy to man the monitor at the park. A union can’t turn down the addition of new jobs.
However it has to happen with the negotiation of challenges and jurisdiction, and the standardization of cameras and angles, it has to happen. No obviously wrong decision should be allowed to stand, especially not in this time of increasing understanding of the value of outs.
We can track in real time the percentage swings in Win Expectancy based on run scoring/prevention probabilities. We know exactly how important any game situation is by looking at the Leverage Index, keenly aware of the specific damage done by poor officiating. This is not just about a tenth-inning home run hitting a railing or not or a close play that breaks up a perfect game – it’s about a seemingly insignificant leadoff groundout on which the runner clearly beat the throw, and the huge difference between one out with the bases empty and a man on first with nobody out.
Veteran umpires are scared of this, threatened by the inexorable encroachment of technology. They worry that their authority is undermined and their significance diminished. And, you know what?
Stop sucking at your job so often.
Too much is at stake for this many mistakes to continue. There is no good reason for MLB not to do everything reasonable in its power to see every play as correctly as possible.
And to the person who feels clever and creative reflexively asking “Whaddaya want next? Machines calling balls and strikes, too?” I say sure, if and when there is such a thing that can be trusted to do the job more consistently. I’d never rule it out.
We’re not close to being there, yet, but we are at the point where the game needs to improve itself by supplementing fallible umpiring with all the verification readily available.
On this call, I have looked at it from every angle, and there is indeed incontrovertible evidence to inform my decision.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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