Instant replay for balls and strikesby Paul Francis Sullivan
December 21, 2010
I am a big advocate for instant replay in baseball and I have been long before the rash of dreadful calls in the 2009 postseason and the Armando Galarraga/Jim Joyce episode. And while I respect different opinions of any topic, I have yet to hear a logical argument against using instant replay in baseball.
I have heard every logical fallacy from the other side: Pleas to emotion. Pleas to tradition. Pleas to authority. Personal attacks. But nobody has given me a good, logical reason why, if we see a call is blown, it shouldn't be corrected.
But even the biggest supporters of instant replay tend to make one exception in using current technology to make sure calls are right and players are rewarded for what they actually did on the field. They almost all say "Except for balls and strikes. That still needs to be up to the umpire."
And before this October, I probably would have agreed with that. But a funny thing happened this postseason. I was watching the TBS broadcasts and I saw the little graphic box they put next to the batter during the game. Instantly after each pitch, it showed where in the strike zone it was and where it crossed the plate. Not in 15 minutes. Not in two minutes. Not in 30 seconds. Instantly and often before the umpire yelled "Strike" or "Ball." I was watching a game from my couch in Los Angeles that was being played in Philadelphia and in real time I saw if the pitch was a strike or not. And it hit me like a Randy Johnson pitch to the helmet: Baseball should use that technology!
Think about it. The strike zone is set for each batter and is called as it is written in the rule book. Which is:
"The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the knee cap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter's stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball."
No more yelling "Where was that?" to the umpire. No more umpires not being consistent from inning to inning with the zone. No more hearing the announcer say "It looks like the umpire was fooled by that as well." No more "make-up calls" to compensate for a previous blown call. No more batters stepping out of the box to jaw with the umpire. Just a strike zone that is consistent.
The most important thing it would eliminate is the asinine fact that each umpire has his own version of the strike zone. One umpire doesn't call the high strike. Another umpire doesn't call the inside strike. Dale Scott's strike zone gets wider when the weather gets worse. He wants to go home. Phil Cuzzi's strike zone in the 2010 Division Series defied all logic.
And of course the late Eric Gregg (who was a very cool guy when I worked with him on a TV show) had a strike zone that was 40 feet wide, 10 feet tall and four inches underground when he called Livan Hernandez's 1997 NLCS victory. Leslie Nielsen did a better job calling balls in strikes in "The Naked Gun."
Isn't it amazing how we have simply accepted that umpires call the game differently? I remember hearing an umpire say "I call it a strike if it is a ball off the plate." Can you imagine that being said about ANY other rule in baseball?
"I call it a fair ball if it is just a few inches foul."
"I don't call it a homer if it hits the foul pole. I just don't call that."
"You have to beat the runner by three steps for me to call him out on a force play."
And yet we allow an umpire to fudge the rule book on balls and strikes, arguably the most vital aspect to the flow of a game.
The changing strike zone isn't seen just from game to game but sometimes batter to batter. And we have strangely taken for granted that the game's top pitchers will get borderline pitches and the best hitters will get questionable calls in their favor. How exactly does this make the game better? If you are a hitter facing Roy Halladay or CC Sabathia, aren't you already at a disadvantage without having to chase pitches out of the zone?
And why should a pitcher get squeezed when he is facing an All-Star hitter? This year some poor schmuck on the Orioles named Koji Uehara struck out Alex Rodriguez to give the Yankees a critical stretch run loss. The only problem was the umpire called the perfect pitch a ball. Everyone on the planet Earth and a few on Neptune saw it was a strike. Even A-Rod started giggling, knowing that he got away with one. So Uehara figured the only place where he could actually be credited for throwing a strike is right down the heart of the plate and that's exactly where he put it. And A-Rod crushed the fat pitch for a game-winning homer.
I want no part of that in my baseball games. If a pitcher throws a strike according to the rules, he should be credited for a strike. It shouldn't matter if the pitcher is a rookie facing Albert Pujols. If he sneaks a strike past him, then more power to him. And if a batter doesn't swing at a ball out of the strike zone, guess what? He shouldn't be penalized for that simply because the guy who threw the pitch has three Cy Young Awards.
Now I can hear the criticism coming now. It is as predictable as Joe West making bad calls against the White Sox.
"But Sully, you are taking the human element out of the game! Why not just have robots play the game? Bad calls from the umpires are part of the game!"
Yeah, do you know what was also part of the game? Segregation. Gamblers interacting with the players. Fans running onto the field and causing a mini-riot at the end of the World Series. Poles in front of your seat. Players leaving their gloves on the field between innings. Do you miss any of those aspects of the game?
I want the human element of the game as well, but I want it from the players! If a player makes a great play, he should be credited with making a great play. If he makes an error that should go against him. If Armando Galarraga throws a perfect game, he should be credited for that. If Mark Langston throws a third strike past Tino Martinez in the 1998 World Series, then that's how it should be marked in the record book. It is hard enough to make a great pitch or a fabulous play. They shouldn't have to plead to have their play count like some poor singer asking Simon Cowell for another chance.
Not to go all Six Million Dollar Man on you dear readers, but we have the technology to do it. Why not use it? More calls will be correct. Games will move more quickly if the strike zone is consistent and impartial.
And baseball can do that by asking TBS "Hey, can we borrow that little graph thingee?" And setting it up on the big center field scoreboard for everyone to see. The second a manager is about to yell "Where was that?" and argue with the ump, slowing the game down, he can look up and say "Oooo. I guess it DID miss the corner."
References and Resources
The Boston Globe, MLB.com, Chicago Tribune