Should Major League Baseball Stick With Tradition or Follow NFL Path?

Home-plate umpire Jim Joyce makes a call during the ninth inning of the American League MLB baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians in Detroit, Michigan June 3, 2010. Questions about the capacity of the human brain to judge action on the sports field are not limited to conversations at the local bar, but are examined by neurobiologists and psychologists using such measures as relay latency , perceptual fluency and speed-accuracy trade-off curve . Picture taken June 3, 2010.  To match Feature SOCCER/BRAIN   REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL SCI TECH)

Lance Pugmire’s article in last week’s Los Angeles Times, Seeking officiating perfection in an imperfect sports world, brings to light the argument about whether the MLB should be taking a “play” from the NFL playbook by incorporating more instant replay with close calls.

The article uses a statistic from an ESPN study that revealed how umpires make mistakes with their calls “20% of the time.” That is a pretty hefty percentage in anyone’s book. However, even at this level of human error, there are always two sides to the story.

Those in favor of increasing instant replay (over just determining homeruns) believe that it would bring more “fairness” to the game. A textbook example for its use, and how impactful it might be, is highlighted in my piece, Bad Call Is Sad End To Detroit Tigers Pitcher Armando Galarraga’s “Perfect” Game, where a perfectly-pitched game was basically stolen from the pitcher by an ump’s bad call. Instant replay would certainly have affected that call.

According to the article, even Little League has adopted the use of video review for close calls at their World Series showcase this year.

And on the opposite side of this discussion you have baseball “traditionalists” who believe that any more reviewing of close calls would not only detract from the natural flow of the game but also remove some “human element” of it. For them, unintentional human error is not only acceptable but an important part of the game – a core foundational piece from our earlier baseball days.

This is tough to argue with as well. Watching an athlete or team deal with the unfairness and/or adversity common to competitive sports most certainly increases our interest as viewers. Who doesn’t root for the underdog, the one who is placed in a position of difficulty and who must surmount tough obstacles in order to achieve something?

August 18, 2010: Nick Markakis  for the Baltimore Orioles is out at first base as Casey Kotchman  for the Seattle Mariners is able to make the play during a game against the visiting Seattle Mariners at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. The Mariners beat the Orioles 6 - 5.

Life is not always going to be fair, and part of our attraction to sports centers on how athletes adapt to this unfairness and still succeed. At younger ages, it is part of the “life lessons” we all hope are taught through sports participation.

To that extent, Rich Jarc (executive director of the Josephson Institute of Ethics in L.A), is quoted in the article as saying:

“The pressure we should be exerting [in youth sports] is not about winning at all costs, but just doing your best. Just think how much better our world would be if we all gave our children that example of how to react to hurt feelings [caused by a bad call]. Because when we get into the real world, believe me, you’re going to have to deal with hurt feelings.”

So, on the one hand, we have the technology to help remove “huge mistakes” in the game, which could make for a better game; while on the other, we have a partial removal of the “human element” that has long been a big part of baseball and the likely loss of important life lessons when applied to earlier stages of the game.

Which is the ideal path? Well…I’m not sure.

Maybe we should use instant replay and review the facts a little more before we decide!!!

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