By Michael Levitt
One week into the 2021 baseball season, the umpires are already getting hate from fans. Considering Sunday’s controversial call at home plate in the game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, it might be useful to revisit some of the pros and cons for video replay being used in Major League Baseball.
But first, an explanation of the play from Sunday. If you have not seen it yet, it is worth a look and can be found on MLB.com, YouTube and Twitter. With the score tied at six in the top of the ninth inning, the Phillies had a runner on third base and one out with shortstop Didi Gregorius at the plate. Gregorius hit a short fly ball to left field that was caught by Marcell Ozuna for the second out. However, Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm, who was the runner at third base, started to tag up and raced for home. Ozuna threw the ball to catcher Travis d’Arnaud to try to end the inning by tagging Bohm out at home. The throw barely beat Bohm to the plate but d’Arnaud had to move to tag Bohm since catchers are not allowed to block the plate. Bohm’s slide aimed for the opposite edge of the plate from d’Arnaud and his foot barely missed the plate, or at least that’s what a reasonable fan would say when they saw the replay. However, the home plate umpire, who had a better view than anyone, thought that Bohm was safe and ruled it as such. The play was reviewed by replay officials in New York to be sure, and they agreed with the original call because of “not enough evidence to overturn it.” This led to outcry from the Braves, fans everywhere (not just Braves fans), and a plethora of people calling to do away with video replay if the right call is not going to be made. Braves manager Brian Snitker and a couple Braves players spoke out about the play in their press conferences after the game, with d’Arnaud overreacting a bit. He said that the play “makes me not even want [replay] anymore. Honestly, it just slows the game down. It took like five minutes for them to decide that and, to me, they got it wrong. So, I’d rather just not have it and get the game going.”
Surprisingly, the first instance of instant replay in Major League Baseball was a decade before it was officially instituted in August of 2008. In 1999, an umpire used it for a judgment call situation and overturned a home run for outfielder Cliff Floyd and the then-Florida Marlins against the St. Louis Cardinals. After the game, the Marlins protested the use of instant replay and the National League office said that it should not have been used. Both leagues then said that they would not use instant replay again until the league office approved it. When the league office officially added instant replay in 2008, it was only used for home runs until 2014. That year, the league added managers’ ability to challenge a ruling along with a plethora of calls that instant replay could be used for, such as force plays, tag plays and whether the ball was fair or foul. Tag plays have been the part that has been criticized the most with instant replay recently, especially with the play on Sunday. In 2015, more reviewable plays were added, including whether a player touched the base before tagging up. There have been more challenges used in recent years, and managers and umpires alike have gotten used to how instant replay can change the outcome of a game and gets more calls right.
The biggest pro for instant replay is that it gets the correct call, though that has been the part of instant replay that fans do not like since it does not always get the correct call. The biggest con of instant replay is that it slows the game down, even though there is a rule that each replay cannot take more than two minutes. Another big point against instant replay in some people’s eyes is that it makes the game more technological and not as human, which is true. However, there is nothing wrong with using more technology in the game, especially if it gets the correct calls. Nobody wants there to be wrong calls, not even the umpires. They do their best, but occasionally make the wrong decision. Instant replay helps them make the correct decisions, so if it takes some of the human aspect out of the game, that seems like a fair price to pay for getting most calls correct. Even with technology, there are going to be some calls that are not right, but the point is to limit those if possible. Major League Baseball was the last of the four major sports leagues (National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League) to implement instant replay, and it is the one that has the most split-second decisions that umpires/referees need to make since every ball and strike call is technically a split-second decision that needs to be made in that moment. Because of that, if instant replay were available to be used for any play or pitch call, the games would take significantly longer than they already do. However, it can get most calls correct while not altering the total time of a game if used for the areas that would benefit the most from instant replay, which is how it is used today.
Yes, there are going to be bad calls. Not every call can be made exactly right. Most of the time, a wrong call will not determine the outcome of a game or a milestone, but there are times when that will happen, such as in the case of the game on Sunday. It is unavoidable, and for the most part, instant replay has helped get more calls right, which is its purpose. It was implemented to limit bad calls by the umpires, and it has done that well. Even with instant replay, there is still a human who is deciding if the original call was correct, so it is logical that there will be some errors there as well. After all, we all are human.
Edited by Emma Moloney