Let umps ump

Here’s another piece about how expanding the use of instant replay to check the work of umpires will improve accuracy in calling baseball games. To which my reaction is, as always, so what?

No doubt machines could do a better job of calling baseball games than actual human beings can. We already have machines that can throw fastballs harder and straighter than big league pitchers can, and the machines never get tired or injured. Machines that can hit the ball farther than Mickey Mantle could can’t be far away. Building a machine that can turn the pivot on a double play may be a ways off, but somebody’s probably working on it.

And what would all of that accomplish? Pitchers who can’t throw a strike when a strike is worth a million bucks, and hitters who swing wildly at ball four are what baseball is all about. Umpires — imperfect, temperamental, inattentive — are just part of a very human, very demanding game. Who wants to watch Earl Weaver kick dirt on a camera?

I hate the use of instant replay in football, but I get it. As George Carlin famously observed, baseball is a 19th century pastoral game. Football is a 20th [now 21st] century technological struggle. Complaining about instant replay in football is like complaining that cavalry horses were replaced by tanks because horses are more romantic.

There isn’t much room for romance in modern warfare, but romance is a big part of baseball (see Bull Durham orĀ Moneyball). Having a perfectly umpired baseball game would be no more satisfying than knowing that every grounder to third would be perfectly fielded or every foul popup perfectly played. Somewhere along the way, perhaps before the seventh-inning stretch, it’s time to ask: What the hell’s the point?

UPDATE: An article in today’s Gazette makes the case for instant replay, and of course it brings up Don Denkinger’s famous missed call in the 1985 World Series. I remember that call, and I’m pretty sure I remember what Denkinger said afterward, although I haven’t found the quote on line: “In my heart, I called it the way I saw it.”

What more could one possibly want?

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