Friday, June 4, 2010

Free Idea Friday

Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Every Friday I will share an idea that's been rolling around in my head that I have neither the time nor the where-with-all to execute. Remember, it's free, so take it for what it's worth. 

Get Every Call Right Every Time
There was a firestorm in the sports media on Wednesday evening and Thursday as Armando Galarraga's perfect game was taken from him on a bad call by one of the best umpires in baseball, Jim Joyce. 

So now the debate on the use of instant replay in baseball has begun in earnest.

This is not the first bad call that's ever been made. In last year's playoffs alone there were at least six clear umpiring errors, including two in one game by Tim McClelland, another umpire many call the best in the game.

When even your best umpires are consistently making egregious errors, it's time to do something. And on a night when Major League Baseball and its fans were robbed of a bit of history, the National Hockey League showed them how it should be done.

The NHL places cameras on the crease so an independent official can review every goal to determine whether the puck completely crossed the goal line or not. On Philadelphia's second goal, on ice referees blew the call. It was a tough one, as the puck was on its side spinning, but replays clearly showed the puck had crossed the line. After the next stoppage of play, the replay official notified the crew chief and a goal was awarded to the Flyers. The entire sequence took less than two minutes in real time.

The biggest argument against replay that I hear is that the games take too long as it is and this will only make them longer. Point taken. 

Between batters who step out after every pitch, catchers who feel the need to visit the mound more often than Paula Abdul sees her shrink, and a strike zone that's the size of my bald spot, most games have become interminably long. But if the games are going to be long and boring, they might as well be right. (And for the record, the Galarraga perfect game was a brisk 1:44. I think they had time for replay on that one.)

The second argument I hear is that human error has always been a part of the game, so we should keep it that way. Accepting errors and poor judgement as a standard business practice is what drove Chrysler into bankruptcy. You really want to follow their lead?

So here's what MLB should do to institute instant replay, starting as soon as they can get people trained and the technology set up.

1. Put a couple of hi-def monitors in a booth overlooking the field in every stadium, manned by two people. Run a feed of every camera directly into one monitor with a switcher that allows the officials to call up any camera on the other to see it full screen.

2. Booth officials review every call in real time during the game. Reviewable calls are limited to:
        a. Safe/out calls at every base
        b. Fair or foul balls along the boundaries
        c. home run calls
        d. catch/trap calls in the field

3. If the booth official sees an obvious blown call or a close play he wants to review, he immediately contacts the crew chief through an earpiece that the crew chief will now wear. If the official cannot find evidence to overturn the play in 90 seconds, the play stands as called on the field.

Umpires are right with their calls a huge percentage of the time so this system would rarely need to be implemented. And given the circumstances under which they work, their performance is amazing. But when they get a call wrong, as happened Wednesday night, one of the best umpires in the league becomes known as the guy who blew the call on the perfect game.

It's unfair to the umpires. It's unfair to the players. It's unfair to the fans. And ultimately it's unfair to the game I love.

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