That's Debatable: Chat with Jayson Stark
Monday's topic, courtesy of Brian in Philadelphia:
Major League Baseball needs to allow for the review of controversial calls made by umpires. It's the 21st century. There's this new thing called instant replay that could help them review the calls that the umps messed up.
The bad news for the team he hit it against, the Phillies, is that the umpire who called that ball fair, Adrian Johnson, wasn't among the earthlings who got to look at that replay.
So is it time for baseball to point its umpires toward the nearest replay machine? Let that debate begin.
THE CASE FOR: Sheez, shouldn't this sport be embarrassed to get calls that basic so wrong? It would have taken those umpires less time to watch the replay than it took for them to huddle, then STILL get it wrong and then have to stand around listening to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel rant and rave about it.
THE CASE AGAINST: Bud Selig says he wouldn't want to do anything to tarnish the sacred ''human element'' that has prevailed in the umpiring business since long before replay machines, and even light bulbs, were invented. So ostensibly, introducing technology would destroy the ''charm'' of the game. Or something like that.
THE VERDICT: You've got to be kidding. As the reader who inspired this debate, Brian of Philadephia, points out, it's the 21st century. So it's about time baseball charged into the 20th century and turned on those replay monitors. Tell Bud Selig I'm 100 percent in favor of humans. But I'm more in favor of getting calls right -- especially calls like this one, which will hang over two division races all year.
Nevertheless, feel free to disagree. That's what ''That's Debatable'' is all about.
Every week, we'll give you the topic and then we'll have one of our writers stopping by to debate the issue with you. To suggest a topic for "That's Debatable," go here. Or check out the full archive.
Jayson Stark (1:03 PM)
All you debaters ready? OK, let the debate begin!
Dan (Philadelphia, PA)
There have been far too many crucial games which have been decided by incorrect home run calls in the past few years. I don't know why people keep trying so hard to preserve the mistakes and errors that lead to results like the one yesterday. I just hope this doesn't come back to hurt the Phillies at the end of the season.
Jayson Stark (1:05 PM)
Well, let's get this straight right now. The Phillies should have won that game, call or no call. I've always told my kids that if you put yourself in position to let an umpire or referee decide a game with a controversial call, that's your fault, not their fault. And that applies here, too. But that said, the umpires got that call dead wrong. And we have technology in place that would have enabled them to get it right. I just can't comprehend why baseball thinks that's a good thing.
No way should there be any type of instant replay in Baseball. NFL games are getting boring with all the replays and Baseball is pure. Leave it that way.
Jayson Stark (1:07 PM)
OK, DJ. Let me ask you a question: When you have to do research, do you click Google or get in your car and drive to a library and look it up by hand? When you have to add a string of numbers, do you do it longhand or use a calculator or computer? Name me one other business in the world where technology exists that could make that business operate better and more efficiently -- but they CHOOSE not to use it? I can't think of one. Except baseball. Makes no sense.
Balls and Strikes, which will never be reviewable as long as umpires are calling them, have a far greater impact on each game than the rare bad call. When replays are shown on TV, it's amazing how often the get close calls correct. I'm all for overturning bad calls, but it's hard to envision a process that will succeed. NFL-like challenges... teams get as many as they want, but as soon as a single call gets upheld, you lose challenges for the rest of the game? Or Tennis-like electronic eyes that aid umpires on fair/foul call - but the humans still make the call.
Jayson Stark (1:08 PM)
You know, the biggest misconception people have about replay -- and even umpires have about replay -- is that replay is there to make them look bad. It's there to make them look better. It's there to help them. We heard the same stuff with Ques Tec. But once these guys found out it wasn't there to enable the second-guessers, but to help them do their jobs better, all the howling stopped. Same deal.
Harold (Los Angeles, Ca)
Why don't they just put an electronic sensor in the ball and something on the pole so we can tell if the ball is fair or foul. And don't argue that baseballs should not be tampered since every other year the balls are wound either too tight or too loose depending if Selig wants homers to dominate Sportscener.
Jayson Stark (1:10 PM)
Good point. I have a friend who does laser eye surgery, and he tells me that the technology could easily be used for all kinds of calls. I don't know that I want to see us go that far. But I do think there are a lot of areas where technology could help, and baseball has no interest in even experimenting with it.
Bobby, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This a debate that is also present in soccer today. FIFA says that part of the game is the referee taking wrong decisions and then everybody debating it the next day. For soccer it would be a lot different as it is a sport that does not stop play as in baseball or football for instance but for baseball, as it has already been said, the time that the umpires gathered to make the decision would be greater than seeing the replay. So the debate in reality is in reliaty not about delaying the game but about if this makes the game "charmier".
Jayson Stark (1:12 PM)
I really just wanted to post a comment from Rio de Janeiro. But you're right, Bobby. It IS the same argument. When you have a call like the one in this game Sunday, the ranting and raving and ejections take longer than it would take to watch the replay and get the call right. So you're exactly right. Bud Selig thinks it's "charming" to second-guess these calls. I disagree. Sounds like most of you do, too.
Sam (Staten Island, NY)
In football if a team challenges a call and goes to instant replay that team gets charged a time out and there is a number of times you can do it. What are you going to do in baseball? Take an out away from the team when they're up to bat? Put a runner in scoring position for the opposing team? Face it, instant replay just doesn't work in baseball. The games are long enough as it is(even longer if someone like Steve Trachsel is pitching), why bother? I like the human element. What Baseball should do is get rid of brash and annoying umps like Angel Hernandez who can't take a little criticism when they are calling games.
Jayson Stark (1:14 PM)
I don't think you have to penalize anybody. In baseball, we couldn't possibly use replay for every call. We will never get to a point where replay decides ball one, strike one. And I doubt we'll ever get to a point where replay would be used to decide a call at first base. But there is NO reason anymore not to use it for fair-foul and homer-or-not. None. Wouldn't even take that long.
eduardo(far rockaway ,new york)
why not have umpires that watch the game through cameras as well'and if something is debateable go to him?
Jayson Stark (1:15 PM)
I agree. You wouldn't even need to have someone in all 30 parks. Two or three "replay officials" could watch all the games in a central location and alert the umpire immediately if a call needs to be reviewed. That's one potential answer, anyway.
The MLB Expert (Boston, MA)
Jason, the time has come for MLB to dip its toe into the instant replay water. They should start with HR / not a HR and fair / foul calls and see how that goes for a year. Then, if all goes well, expand it to safe / out calls. But that's as far as I'd go. Getting the call right is the most important thing. Th-Yanks.
Jayson Stark (1:17 PM)
I'm with you all the way. It's amazing baseball has never even experimented with replay to see how it would work. Not even in spring training. There was talk about trying it during the World Baseball Classic next spring. Heck, replay might avert an international incident. And who wouldn't be in favor of that?
Jayson- Your first point is dead wrong (about the Phillies allowing themselves to be in that position). So the 1972 USA basketball team has no arguement because they were involved in a close game and the refs decided to cheat at the end of the game? No wonder football is taking over.
Jayson Stark (1:19 PM)
This is really a side argument. But let's discuss it briefly. What I've tried to teach my kids is that officials don't decide games. Players decide games. But that doesn't mean there aren't bad calls, really bad calls and criminally bad calls. And if we can avoid any of the above by using replay, why wouldn't this sport be interested in doing that? That's the question I'm trying to raise.
I hate to say it but I agree with Selig on this one. In a game full of statistics it is good to have the element of human error. I do not think it's big enough of an issue to bring in instant replay and further slow down the game. Managers like Pinella, Cox, and Manuel would be calling for instant replays on EVERY stolen base attempt and slide into home! Leave instant replay for football.
Jayson Stark (1:22 PM)
Well, it turns out there is SOMEBODY who agrees with Bud on this. Good to know. But here's my question: How much would replay really slow a game down? Instead of stopping the game, having a big umpire huddle, making a call and then unleashing a giant argument that delays the game for four or five minutes, why not take a minute or two to make the RIGHT call? I wouldn't want replay on every play, either. In fact, I'd love to use this chat to help narrow down which plays we COULD use it for. Balls and strikes are out. But which out-safe calls would be reasonable to address? Your thoughts . . .
You said earlier, "Name me one other business in the world where technology exists that could make that business operate better and more efficiently"...Do you really think introducing replay will make baseball run more efficiently? In football, it takes them forever to make a decision. Why do think this will not happen in baseball? Some calls no matter how much technology will always need a human to make the call. I don't need technology in baseball.
Jayson Stark (1:24 PM)
Most of these fair-foul and homer-or-not calls are cut and dried. Check the replay of that home run Sunday and tell me you'd need to watch that one more than once or twice to realize that ball was foul. Even people in baseball who are skeptical about replay don't argue it would delay the game any more than the rhubarbs delay it now.
Ask the Padres fans about safe/out calls. Matt Holliday still hasn't touched home!
Jayson Stark (1:25 PM)
See, I think that's one safe-or-out call where I would use replay -- a call in the ninth inning or later that allows a critical run to score. Anybody disagree?
Kevin ( Atlantic City, NJ)
What if baseball added a fifth umpire that sat in a booth above the field and simply watched all of the calls on replay like in the NHL when the refs aren't sure if the puck crossed the goal line and they call into Toranto. Then if the umpire needs a judgement call they can call upstairs and get the answer from replay. However, balls and strikes would never be reviewed and the tie would still go to the runner.
Jayson Stark (1:27 PM)
I think this is exactly how it would work. The NHL doesn't have a replay official at every game. The replay official is in the league office. You don't hear many complaints about replay in hockey destroying the charm of that game, do you? This would NOT be the NFL system. Remember that, gang.
I think not only fair/foul but also whether a player actually catches the ball. What a terrible call in the mariners-angels game last night!
Jayson Stark (1:28 PM)
I'm with you. I'd include the old did-he-catch-it-or-trap-it call in the replayable-call file.
Dallas (Billings, MT)
Part of the game of baseball is the error of the umpires. Stoppages will cause not needed delays that will change the flow of the game. Baseball is designed to be played at a certain speed. Just because we have the technology does not mean we should use it.
Jayson Stark (1:29 PM)
Dallas, I understand what you're saying. But when there's a controversial call, the game starts and stops NOW, because the arguments stop it. So this might actually reduce some of those delays.
Mark (Palm Harbor, FL)
Jayson, what makes the the safe-or-out at home in the ninth any more important than a similar call in the first inning if the final score ends up being 1-0?
Jayson Stark (1:31 PM)
I've had a bunch of comments from people saying the same thing. I don't disagree. I'm just trying to appease the replay-will-slow-down-the-game crowd. But if I were commissioner, I wouldn't differentiate. Plays at the plate would all be reviewable, but I'd have to think about the other bases. What do you think?
Timm (Silver Spring, MD)
there seems to be a misconception about using technology, such as reviewing tape, and replacing umpires with robots. while i'm not sure why marc (from syracuse) thinks it's beneficial to have human error (apparently stats should be inaccurate?), suffice to say that instant replay will not eliminate it. only lessen it. replay is a tool, but tools still require humans to use them (or crows, as the case may be). what on earth is so "charming" and "pure" about blowing a call?
Jayson Stark (1:35 PM)
You're exactly right, Timm. I see no charm whatsoever in allowing mistakes that could be easily corrected. It's fun to argue about sports. I obviously agree with that. I wrote a book designed to encourage arguing. But there's plenty to debate and argue without having to spend hours debating whether umpires got a call right. The other sports have replay. Do we ever stop arguing about them?
Why wouldn't the umps favor replay as well? Would you want to be an umpire who made a terrible call in a big game and then be known for that the rest of his life? Umpires DO NOT want to be that guy and replay would make sure they are not.
Jayson Stark (1:36 PM)
Exactly. Now could you help me convince the umpires of that?
stephen, (Forsyth, MT)
there is no way to use it for all fair or foul calls, just home runs. i.e. if a runner hits a ball down the 1st baseline that is initially called foul how do you decide how many bases he gets if it is indeed fair?
Jayson Stark (1:38 PM)
That's a fair point. But we often see the equivalent of that problem arise now. Remember the Mets-Braves game two weekends ago where Mark Kotsay was originally ruled to have caught a ball? That was initially called an out and led to an inning-ending double play. Then the umpires huddled, decided it was a trap and had to make a ruling on where the runners would have wound up. It's the same thing.
Kevin (Evanston, IL)
Responding to Steven, you can't change a foul call to a fair, only the other way around. Once a ball is a dead ball, it can't become live again, kind of like how in football, if a player was whistled down, they couldn't then review and say he fumbled.
Jayson Stark (1:40 PM)
Not sure about this, Kevin. If the idea is to get calls right, then why should we only be able to get half the fair-foul calls right?
Jon (Portland, OR)
So we've started with adding replay for foul/homers, and then we've added "the old did-he-catch-it-or-trap-it", and now you're advocating for replay on plays at the plate, but "you'd have to think about the other bases." Isn't it obvious that we'd be fast sliding down a slippery slope, that would eventually end up with balls&strikes being reviewed? The same thing is happening in football: there was a controversial FG in a Browns game this past season, and now there is a new rule that replay can extend to FGs. As much as I hate to see blatantly wrong calls, this is dangerous territory for baseball.
Jayson Stark (1:42 PM)
Jon, I think we all agree that we should never get to a point where every call can be reviewed. There are way too many of them. I would advocate starting slowly and going from there. The GMs voted last year to recommend using replay on home run calls only, but the commissioner overruled them. But the idea was to start slowly and see how it works, then tweak it from there. What's wrong with that?
John (Sewell, NJ)
There is something poetic about an umpire pumping his fist into the air and yelling "OUT!" Instant replays will take the finality of this every day occurrence away from the game.
Jayson Stark (1:43 PM)
Why? Ultimately, the umpire still has to make the call. He just would have a greater ability to make the right call. If he looks at the replay and still yells, "Out," it would seem even more emphatic to me.
Jason (Scarsdale NY)
I bet Don Denkinger would LOVE instant replay.
Jayson Stark (1:44 PM)
Only one problem: That wouldn't be a call that would be reviewable, I'm guessing. I doubt we'll ever get to the point where the bang-bang call at first will be a matter for replay. Haven't heard any discussion at all within the sport about that area.
Sleepy in the Eastern Time Zone.
I can barely stay awake for the end of post season games now.
Jayson Stark (1:45 PM)
Then don't outlaw replay. Outlaw the Red Sox and Yankees. These teams that see 200 pitches a game are slowing down the games a lot more than replay ever would.
Jayson, why are we drawing a line. You're okay with the human element in calling balls and strikes but in other instances you favor replay. Every ump has a different strike zone which often varies from inning to inning and even player to player. This kind of thing doesn't effect the outcome of a game?
Jayson Stark (1:47 PM)
Of course it does. But you can't use replay to review 300 pitches a night. We could use lasers, but do people really want laser beams instead of plate umps? I don't.
Ask O's fans about home runs and instant replay. I know its been 12 years, but I am still upset with Jeffrey Maier.
Jayson Stark (1:48 PM)
If they just use replay for home runs, it ought to be known as The Jeffrey Maier Rule.
Jayson - I was there. I was sitting in left field. It was foul. There was no doubt about it. The reply should be allowed.
Jayson Stark (1:50 PM)
I've had several people who were there write into this chat saying the same thing. The amazing part is that the umpires claimed after the game that they got it right and the replay was somehow misleading. Maybe this is an argument against replay. But that's why you'd let somebody who didn't have a stake in the original call decide it objectively.
Chuck (Des Moines, IA)
Where does it stop? Fair/foul? Plays at the plate? Plays at first? Stolen bases? Touching every base on a homerun? Catch/trap? Leaving the bag early on a sac fly? Balls/strikes? Balks? Fan interference? plays down the line? No, this wouldn't slow the game down at all. Just because something seems like a good idea at first does not make it a good idea. BTW: Has anybody else noticed how calls have changed in football since instant replay has dug in? Now it seems that the refs make calls based on the fact it will be reviewed. A lot of borderline out-of-bounds calls are called out anticipating that the camera will bail them out.
Jayson Stark (1:52 PM)
I've already said I don't want to use replay for every call in a game. I thought that was clear. I'm OK with using it for all home run calls and then allowing say two "challenges" on fair/foul or possibly out/safe calls. There are a million ways to do this without using it 50 times a game.
Dan (Cedar Falls, IA)
Keep in mind that bad calls go both ways. Sometime this year the Phillies will benefit from a bad call that will impact the game and everything will balance out.
Jayson Stark (1:55 PM)
I've had a few comments like this, too -- that "it all evens out" over the course of the year. I have to admit I have a tough time accepting this argument. We should allow all mistakes because they even out? I'd like somebody to do a study and determine if that's true. I bet they don't all even out. That's just one of those cliches we've come to accept because we've heard it so many times.
Tom (Chicago, IL)
Problems with the fair/foul call... If someone hits a drive down the left field line that would be a for sure double, maybe triple, and the ump calls it foul but then replay overturns it, where would you place the runner? Would you just give him a single? A double? That would cause alot of judgement problems.
Jayson Stark (1:57 PM)
Of course it would. But check out my answer earlier in which I talked about that call in the Mets-Braves game. The principal that allowed those umpires to get themselves into exactly the same mess was this: Baseball encourages the umpires to "get the call right" nowadays by getting together as a group to talk over calls after the fact. Every once in a while, when they do that, it causes this exact same problem. So if they're being encouraged to "get the call right" in that context, why wouldn't the same principle apply to replay?
Grant (Minneapolis, MN)
Im in favor of a replay system like tennis. Make it quick and computer generated. Maybe give the managers one objection a game. But to keep games short, can we get a 15 second pitch clock. From the umpire call, to the next pitch or pick-off the pitcher has 15 seconds. I seriously believe this wouldnt effect some pitchers but help greatly with others.
Jayson Stark (1:58 PM)
I have no doubt that tennis technology could be used for fair/foul calls in baseball. Again, it amazes me that they haven't even experimented with stuff like this in spring training just to see what kind of effect it would have.
Jayson Stark (1:59 PM)
Boy, this went fast. But we're about out of time. Let's take one more.
Jayson, have you ever watched the replay on a disputed call multiple times and still not been able to say if it was fair/foul, homer/not, safe/out?
Jayson Stark (2:00 PM)
Of course. That call in the Mets game last week, where Jose Reyes may or may not have touched the plate with the winning run was one of them. Even players told me afterward they weren't sure. If that were the case, it would work just like football. The original call would stand. It's not that complicated. Is it?
Jayson Stark (2:01 PM)
Boy, we could keep this debate raging for hours. Days. Maybe weeks. But it's been fun. Thanks for all the great points everybody made out there. We'll resume some kind of debate next Monday. Seeya then.