The NFL is held up as the epitome of everything that is sacred and brilliant in the world of sports, which means anything Major League Baseball does to emulate the NFL is going to be feted and honored. Baseball could decide to line the outfield with yard markers and a segment of the slavering press would nod reflexively, stroke its collective chin and write something about baseball's move toward a more forward-thinking approach, its welcome embrace of technology and its refreshing willingness to set aside its hidebound ways.
And so MLB's announcement that it will greatly expand replay to encompass everything but balls, strikes and -- in a weird tangent -- hit batters is considered one of the greatest evolutionary leaps since batting helmets. They're going to give managers three challenges per game, one in the first six innings and two in the final three innings, because anyone who has ever watched a baseball game knows how blown calls all congregate at the end of the game, kind of like the seagulls at AT&T Park.
Oh, but this is a step forward, no matter how flawed. Why? Because the technology exists and expanded replay makes an effort to get the call right. If you want to guarantee that people will agree with you, just say those four words. Get the call right. Who can argue with that?
For one thing, MLB's proposal is terrible. It's destined to achieve three unintended goals: (1) lengthen games, both by the time it takes to review and the time it takes a manager to decide whether to review; (2) add a layer of clerical responsibility to a manager's job, and; (3) irritate the tender sensibilities of every umpire.
Doesn't everyone already think baseball games drag? Isn't that why all the kids are playing basketball and video games and riding their skateboards through Walter White's empty pool? Add six replay challenges to a Yankees-Red Sox game and you've got a hostage situation. But the get-it-right fetishists will counter that one argument can take longer than six reviews. Sure, but get this: People actually like arguments. They really do. They like it when their manager gets all worked up and throws his cap and kicks the dirt and yells at Joe West. That's fun, and nobody has ever sat back with a stopwatch and wondered when Ron Gardenhire was going to stop raging at an umpire so everybody can get back to watching Brian Duensing throw his curveball. And sometimes, believe it or not, there's strategy involved in a manager's decision to blow a gasket. They're out there because they're trying to stick up for one of their guys or motivate their players or go back to the clubhouse so they don't have to watch their miserable little teams screw up the game any longer.
Here's some more sacrilege for you: The worst argument for expanded replay can be found in one league: the NFL. (Oh, look: I just got struck by lightning.) The NFL's replay system has created a bunch of hesitant, commitment-phobic referees who stand around at stare at each other for a few seconds every time there's a debatable play in the end zone. They're hoping like hell the other guy will make the call, and just as it starts to get uncomfortable, one of them shrugs and signals touchdown, knowing touchdowns are always reviewed so who really cares?
Here's the thing: We don't have to get every call right any more than players have to field every ground ball and managers have to write the perfect lineup and make the right call to the bullpen. Baseball is a human endeavor, just like life.
Keep replays of debatable home runs/non-home runs. No problem there. It's not reasonable to expect an umpire running out from second base to see whether a ball hit a railing or a wall 200 feet away. But if the first-base umpire misses a runner beating a throw from short by a spike length? Tough. Live with it. Try as it might, no sporting league can legislate its way into a mistake-free state of bliss.
And don't whine about being a Cardinals fan and Don Denkinger and the course of history and your father's long-suffering loyalty to a team that could have made him happy one last time if Satan hadn't hijacked Denkinger's eyes. Unless you played on the team and got shafted out of a winning World Series share, grow up about it and move on. Would your life be materially different if a camera had been able to reverse the call? Probably not. Plus, now you have an excuse.
Here's an evolved, forward-thinking idea for Joe Torre and Tony La Russa: Deal with the problem umps. Require anger-management courses for the ones who need it. Teach them how to deal with people in a non-officious way. Put together an offseason acting troupe for the guys who feel the need to be the center of attention.
The quality of umpiring is getting worse, and it has nothing to do with blown calls juxtaposed with the availability of HD cameras. The sport would be a better place if umpires would stop whipping off their masks and chasing guys around the field, daring them to say something so they can throw them out.
There's a lot more involved with getting it right than allowing a manager to wave a hanky three times a game -- twice in the final three innings, when every game is decided -- to prove whether the second baseman was on the bag or just near it.