The Peril of Replay in Major League Baseball


How many times will we see Maddon trot out to talk to the umpire simple to stall for the possibility of a challenge? (Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports)

The season is not even a week old and I am here to say that MLB should ditch replay. You may say it works; the umpires are finally able to get it right. You’ll pardon me if I cover my ears and go, “La-la-la, I can’t hear you.” Everyone pays tribute to the umpires, saying they do a good job, and for the most part they do. Umpires are human, though, and sometimes they make mistakes. After all, you make mistakes at work, right? Your mistakes are, for the most part, tolerated. Why can’t umpires be afforded the same leniency?

Say it was Game 7 of the ALCS between the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees with the winner heading to the World Series. The Yankees are leading 3-2 with two outs in the 9th. Desmond Jennings is on first and he takes off for second. The Yankees catcher throws down but Jennings is ruled safe. Replays show he was out and the game should be over, but this is before replay. On the very next pitch, Evan Longoria does what he does best and hits a dramatic home run. Rays win!

Well, maybe they shouldn’t have. Don’t we have replay to get the call right? But with replay, the fans of baseball would be the biggest losers. A moment of great drama would have been flushed down the toilet and why? Part of the charm that separated MLB from the NFL is the human element. Drama is created by the human element, not by technology. Because humans are not perfect, a million scenarios can be built out of a solitary incident. Whereas, with replay, the only scenario is the truth. Getting it right is good, but do you like sports because of the statistical probability of perfection or because of the dramatic moments? Think back, might there have been an incident in Game 162 in 2011 that would have prevented the Rays from coming back? If so, one of the most dramatic events in baseball history, Dan Johnson‘s game-tying blast and Evan Longoria’s walk-off home run, might never have happened.

It is said that the replays are quick and are handled efficiently and they are. But that isn’t true–they are still a disruption. A play occurs and automatically you hold your breath expecting one of the managers to challenge the play. The flow of the game is already disturbed. It does not matter that it may take a couple seconds to get it right. It’s akin to a musician stopping a song in midstream, going back and redoing the note he messed up. 

In addition, if any of you have watched the NFL, you will well know that replay in the league has produced an inferior quality of referee. They do not need to get the call right because technology will bail them out. And guess what? Much of the time, NFL referees end up getting it wrong anyway. Clearly, the NFL model is not one to be adopted or even trumpeted. It is flawed, delays games interminably, and has brought the quality of officiating down considerably. No matter how much MLB officials assure us replays will be quick, they never are. The NFL has had the replay capabilities in place for a long time and still have yet to perfect it.

In the end, how big of a difference does replay in major league baseball really make? Without replay, no team probably gets more breaks than any other. The law of averages always catches up. And as long as the umpires make the effort, I can live with their mistakes. After all, great drama is full of them.