Nothing makes me more crazy than to watch a perfectly good baseball game ruined by a bad umpire. When the rules of a game can’t be judged fairly, it tarnishes the integrity of the game. You wouldn’t play cards with a stacked deck, or dice with loaded cubes. Sometimes the infractions on a Major League baseball diamond are egregious. Likes the horrendous call at first base that ruined Armando Gallaraga’s perfect game in 2010. And recently, a no-hitter for Johan Santana was preserved when a fair ball hit by Carlos Beltran was called foul. Within seconds, everyone watching the game on TV saw the umps got it wrong in both cases — but on the field, the men in blue steadfastly refused to consult the digital tools that would allow them to correct their mis-judgement.
These are just two of the more high profile instances, but any fan of baseball sees this kind of thing happen every day. Bad umpiring is compromising the game. And a game is only as good as its referees. A poorly judged game ruins the sport for all the participants because it results in tainted outcomes. Things get even more dicey when it comes to calling balls and strikes. The variation of the Strike Zone varies widely from ump to ump. This guy likes low strikes. This one favors high ones. This fellow calls anything that hits the catcher between the knees a strike, even if it’s off the plate. This guy’s strike zone gets tighter in later innings. Hunh? Those that defend these inconsistencies cite the charm of the “human element.” That this is a tradition of the game of baseball. Are they kidding me! Lame judgement is a cherished tradition?!
One of the oldest games known to man is the simple foot race. The Greeks, in the first Olympics, used no more than their eyeballs to determine who crossed the finish line first. It’s all they had. But are you telling me that we should follow this quaint method to determine the winner at the 2012 London Olympics because this charming tradition pays homage to the human element passed down through the centuries? Heck, no! In the name of all that’s fair, the Olympic Committee will get out the digital clocks and break down the times to the nearest 1/100th of a second.
And don’t tell me that instant replay would slow down the game.
If Wimbledon can use lasers to determine whether a tennis ball is “in” or “out,” we can use the same technology to alert us to balls and strikes. Believe me, if that technology had been around during John McEnroe’s era, it would have nipped his line call tantrums right in the bud.
I know I’m in a small minority, especially when it comes to removing the home plate umpire to call balls and strikes. I’m just looking at baseball from a game designer’s point of view: a good game must also be a fair game. Whether you agree or not, there’s no doubt in my mind that instant replay is inevitably coming to baseball — to settle disputes over foul balls, questionable home runs, close tag outs and controversial calls. It came to tennis. It came to football. It came to basketball. The modern era is going to come to baseball. Unless Commissioneer Selig keeps the game officially in the Stone Age.
When it DOES come, there is one thing I’ll miss: managers getting tossed for arguing a call. Guys like Lou Pinella, Tommy Lasorda, and the immortal Bobby Cox. Their ejections were better entertainment than most games. But since all three are retired, maybe it’s time to retire the men in blue too.