Today Major League Baseball announced that instant replay will come to a major league stadium near you starting Thursday. Replay will be limited to the review of disputed home run calls to determine if the ball is fair vs. foul, if the ball went over the wall or remained in play, or if a fan interfered with the ball. Disputed plays at the bases, balls and strikes, and other types of plays – though more common and arguably more important than disputed home run calls – will not be subject to instant replay review.
The implementation of this rule is flawed by at least two factors. First, they are introducing this new rule 132 games into a 161-game season. I do not like the idea of playing 132 games under one set of rules, and the remaining 29 games under a different set of rules. In a season that endures for 161 games, a loss in April counts the same as a loss in September. Why apply a different set of rules for the final month of the season that didn't apply for the first five months?
Secondly, the use of instant replay depends on the availability of television broadcast feeds for review. However, not every team broadcasts every game, thus leaving some games without reviewable television broadcast feeds. A rule that is being introduced with 29 games remaining in the season will only apply to those games with television feeds. Most games have feeds, but not all. What kind of sport implements a rule that depends on the television broadcasting arrangements the teams have made? Woe to you, O Kansas City!
But more, the rule itself is flawed because it introduces technology into a game that doesn't even need a clock (see my rant about sports with clocks here). The human element in baseball is not only part of the game as it has been played for over one hundred years, but it is also emblematic of a game that has blessedly avoided arcane and overly technical rules (save for the balk rule). Baseball players play against each other – not a clock – and the game is officiated by humans, not technology. The human element in baseball is terribly imperfect – from home run sluggers who strike out, to umpires who miss a call – but it is part of the game nonetheless. Imposing a strict perfection in one aspect of the game threatens to irreparably move the game into a new, overly-technical experience.
If our new, tiny ballparks make it hard for umpires to rule on home runs, then perhaps MLB should require stricter standards for outfield walls (I'm pretty sure we don't need flower gardens along those outfield walls!). But using instant replay is not the answer.