Typewriters. Pay phones. Libraries. Board games. Spelling and grammar. Conversation. Drive-in movie theaters. Love letters. Umpires.
What do they have in common? Yes, sad but true, they are becoming obsolete. In our 21st-century society, you’re either online or off the grid. We communicate in shorthand to accommodate short attention spans. We are tweeting, texting, Wii-ing, Wi-Fi-dependent, iPod-obsessed, YouTubed, LOL fools. Facebook has replaced the idea of reading a real book.
In an environment where everything is a click away, Major League Baseball is seen as old-fashioned, low-tech and not cool. Our “National Pastime” is just that. Past its time.
While the taut playoffs have been a wonderful testament to the game, the blown calls have accentuated its archaic qualities. Umpires are human beings with human eyes but we have little tolerance for human error when there are modern alternatives to correct mistakes. Relying on umpires instead of video review is like using Wite-Out instead of the delete button.
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The people who officiate sports events should be unsung heroes. What they do, under withering pressure and with incredible accuracy, is make instantaneous decisions in the middle of super-fast action. But their jobs have changed. Not only can fans abuse officials as “idiotic,” but they can back it up by pointing to the arena’s Jumbotron screen, where the gaffe is replayed over and over, from different angles, zooming in. The ref didn’t have the benefit of slow motion, but fans do.
Officials are undermined by TV coverage. The fan at home sees graphic elements, including the ball and strike tracker over home plate, plus replays of close calls at the bases. Same thing with other sports: Goaltending, fouling, flopping, and sideline calls, forward-progress calls, fumble calls.
An error by second-base umpire Jeff Nelson in Sunday’s Game 2 of the ALCS series between the Yankees and Tigers might have affected the outcome, complained Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
The Tigers’ Omar Infante was clearly tagged out “by about five feet,” said Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, after Infante tried to dive back to the base on Austin Jackson’s single and Nick Swisher’s throw from right field in the eighth inning.
The two-out safe call by Nelson, which he later admitted was wrong, enabled the Tigers to score two runs with their extra out.
“They talk about the flow of the game, but we play 235 days to get to this point,” Girardi said. “We’ve evolved technology to make things better. That’s what our country has done. It’s an easy thing. It takes 30 seconds.”
Baseball is concerned about extending games that are already too long, which has occurred in football. But a replay review in baseball would take less time than arguments between managers and umpires. Girardi argued with Nelson once, returned to the dugout, watched a replay and marched out to argue again. He was ejected.
The Yankees were victims of another blown call in Game 1, which they lost 6-4. In San Francisco’s 7-1 win over St. Louis in Monday’s Game 2 of the NLCS, the Giants got a break in the eighth inning when first-base umpire Bill Miller did not see the Cards’ first baseman tag the baserunner when he raced back to the bag after a spectacular catch.
The painful “outfield fly” call cost Atlanta in its one-game wild card playoff.
And remember when umpire Jim Joyce wrecked pitcher Armando Galarraga’s chance for a perfect game? Galarraga was gracious and Joyce apologetic, but the result stood.
Officials want to get it right. They don’t want to go home knowing everyone saw a miscarriage of justice, in slo-mo.
It’s time for baseball to expand its use of instant replay, now applied on disputed home run calls and in 2013 to be applied to close fair or foul calls, trap or catch calls and fan interference calls. Instant replay should be further utilized, but not for ball and strike calls. Give managers two challenges per game. Want to really speed up the pace? Limit pitchers to their allotted 12 seconds and prohibit batters from leaving the box to spit, swing, consult with the third base coach, adjust helmet, gloves, body parts and contemplate the meaning of the universe.
The NFL, NBA and NHL (not to mention the Little League World Series) — rely on instant replay. Soccer needs to eliminate bad calls at the goal line. John McEnroe would never have become McBrat in modern-day tennis because he wouldn’t have pointed to the ball mark on the court and screamed, “You can’t be serious!” to Hawkeye. Machines can’t be insulted.
Jim Leyland is opposed to more technological interruptions. He likes the “human element” of sports. Most of us do. Controversy is fun. But with replays replaying in our faces, it seems backward to let mistakes go uncorrected. Give umpires another tool. Better that than a robot behind home plate, whirring: “Strike 3. CYA.”