Thursday, April 5, 2012

Improve baseball in an instant

I wrote this post in 2010 after Armando Galarraga was robbed of his perfect game by a blown call at first base. A call that could have been easily reversed in less that 90 seconds by using available technology. As the Major League baseball season gets underway, with a few changes based on input from others, I again make the case for expanded use of instant replay to protect the integrity of the game I love. The objective is simple...

Get Every Call Right Every Time

On June 2, 2010, Armando Galarraga's perfect game was taken from him on a bad call by one of the best umpires in baseball, Jim Joyce. 

This is not the first bad call that's ever been made. In the 2009 playoffs 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. And in 1985, the St. Louis Cardinals had a World Series title taken from them by Don Denkinger's missed call on a put out at first.

When even your best umpires consistently make egregious errors, it's time to do something. And on that night in 2010 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.

Somebody already does it right

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. Before the next face-off, the replay official notified the head referee he wanted to review the play and less than two minutes later a goal was awarded to the Flyers.

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. This is a red-herring.

Games have gotten longer because pitchers and batters take an inordinate amount of time between every pitch. Adding two or even three replays per game – which is a generous estimate of its use – would add less than six minutes to the game's running time. (And for the record, the Galarraga perfect game was a brisk 1:44. I think they had time for replay on that one.)

Fixable mistakes should be fixed

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?

The key is to set up a system that works quickly, efficiently and effectively without disrupting the game or adding to the manager's burden during the game. So there will be no challenge flags. No limits to the challenges so people have to decide whether or not a particular play should be reviewed. It should happen automatically and be consistent with the pace of play.

The Gallaraga Rule

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 two hi-definition monitors in a booth overlooking the field in every stadium, manned by a replay official. Run a feed of every camera directly into one monitor with a switcher that allows the official to call up any camera on the other monitor to see it full screen. The official will be able to blow up the image, run it frame by frame, etc.

2. The booth official looks at every play in real time and have only the time between pitches to determine whether a play warrants review. Reviewable calls will be limited to:
        a. Safe/out calls at every base
        b. Fair or foul balls along the boundaries
        c. Home run calls
        d. Tag up calls on pop fly outs

3. If the booth official sees an obvious blown call or a play that's close enough to review, he immediately contacts the crew chief through a wireless earpiece that the crew chief will now wear. The umpires stay on the field while the booth official reviews the play. If the official cannot find evidence to overturn the play in 90 seconds, the play stands as called on the field. If the play is overturned the official notifies the crew chief, the appropriate changes are made and the game resumes.

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 on that 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment