Instant Replay: A Technique for the Future

As technology has improved, we have perilously toed the line between improving the quality of refereeing at sporting events and insufferably increasing the length of these events. We’ve seen basketball games become endless as every out of bounds call is reviewed – re-watch the end of the Wisconsin-Arizona Elite 8 game if you’re curious –  and football games become filled with challenge flags. So naturally, everyone was very curious about how the implementation of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) challenge system would turn out. The rule, approved this offseason, affords each team one challenge per game on all sorts of different plays, and the results have been successful for the most part this season. Teams also have the option to challenge twice from the seventh inning on.

The interesting part of the challenge system is that there is no fixed time frame as there is in football. In that case, the offensive team can run up to the line of scrimmage and hike the ball quickly in order to reduce the time that the defense has to challenge the call.Baseball has taken on a different and sometimes amusing form. This season, we have seen the manager of the challenging team slowly walk out to the umpire and calmly discuss the call with him. At one point, he will peak into the dugout and get an affirmative or negative sign from his coaches on whether to challenge the call, as they have been speaking with someone who has access to the replay. It’s an odd twist that will clearly have to be changed, or some sort of time limit will have to be implemented. An alternative could be once the manager steps out of the dugout, he has to challenge the call. Besides the slowness of this system, it seems like replay in baseball is something that is here to stay.

When in doubt, I believe that we should err on the side of getting the call right. If replays do actually add five or ten minutes to the total duration of the game, so be it. Theoretically, this may actually shorten the average game length, as there will be fewer opportunities for managers to lose their minds arguing with officials over a call that cannot be changed. The managers can simply challenge the call and be done with it. There are few things more disappointing and frustrating in sports than when a game ends in an incorrect call, and this should theoretically reduce the chance of that happening.

But not everything can be solved with instant replay. This past Saturday, when the Boston Red Sox played the New York Yankees, instant replay created even more controversy. Second baseman Dean Anna of the Yankees drilled what he thought was a double off the wall, but when he slid into second base, his leg seemed to come off the base for an instant as Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts tagged him. The replay official determined that Anna was safe, although that seems to be the incorrect call, setting off much controversy throughout the baseball world. Despite this slip-up, the MLB review system is something that should stay for the foreseeable future; if it can help us make sure more calls are correct, I am all for it.

It is important, though, that there are no more expansions of instant replay for MLB. There needs to be an aspect of human error in the game in order to make it authentic. We can’t have managers challenging balls and strikes, because each umpire has his own different strike zone that is different from what a computer will have. I also hope that the amount of challenges allowed per team is not increased to two for the entire game. The amount of controversial calls over the course of a baseball game is not as high as one may think, and having multiple incorrect challenges will cause the manager to err on the side of challenging rather than being cautious. When we get to the point where managers are thoughtlessly challenging because there is no penalty for an incorrect challenge, the system needs an overhaul. Regardless, instant replay and the challenge system are certainly off to a good start this year, and with a few improvements it can become a staple of MLB.

Contact David Josselsohn at [email protected].