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Chris Mueller: Forget The "Human Element," Just Get It Right

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) -- Get it right. That's a simple, three word phrase that illustrates exactly how I feel about the question of replay in baseball. All morning I've heard various people make arguments against more comprehensive replay in baseball. These arguments have generally applied one of the following schools of thought when justifying themselves: Baseball games are long enough as is, and the "human element" in the game is what makes it special.

(Takes several deep breaths)

Are you kidding me? I hope anyone that actually thinks those things is kidding. I hope they realize how silly those arguments sound. I hope they realize that the lack of comprehensive replay would be a problem even if it hadn't affected a surprisingly meaningful Pirates game late July. Every other major sport in this country uses replay to make sure they get crucial calls right. Basketball for buzzer beaters, hockey for goals or non-goals. Football for crucial plays in the last two minutes of the each half. There is a coaches challenge system in football that brings a "human element" to the replay system.

Baseball uses replay for home runs. Ah yes, the sexy home run in baseball. Of course, it makes far more sense to use replay to get home run calls correct, even ones that happen in a blowout, than it does to get plays at the plate or decisive out/safe calls correct. If it's good enough for home runs, and simple enough to apply, then it should be good enough for other clear "yes/no" calls. There are several reasonable solutions to the replay problem. A fifth ump with access to high-definition monitors to act not as "Big Brother" in the sky, but as a defense against clear missed calls that alter the fundamental flow of the game. A league office dedicated to monitoring close calls, manned entirely by former umps whose job is to get it right, not worry about what their active brethren might think. And heck, this would create jobs! Always a great thing in this economy.

Bear in mind, I'm not saying this just because the Pirates lost. There was a game earlier this year where the Bucs were the clear beneficiaries of a missed call on what was ruled a sliding catch by Jose Tabata. Fundamentally altered the game, and nothing was done. Sing it with me now: Geeeet iiiit riiiiight. Not that hard, people.

What infuriates me most, though, are the people that really lean on the ideas that baseball games take too long and that the "human element" really does set the game apart from other sports. One, the same people that say the game is too long are the ones that say baseball's lack of a "clock" gives it a certain charm. Apparently another important part of that charm is missed calls, else you wouldn't hear such an outcry against a change to the game that might add, at most, a minute or two to a 3-3.5 hour game. When a bad call is made, half the time you waste two minutes watching some overweight manager burst blood vessels yelling at an ump, who then screams back for another minute and gives him the theatrical heave-ho. Let's see--would I rather spend 3 minutes waiting while someone made sure the right call was made, or would I rather watch two people argue like a dysfunctional married couple? Tough call.

And then there's the human element. Easily the dumbest argument of all. Somehow, the older crowd that grew up with baseball as America's number one sport want to keep it in the dark ages, free from all technological touches. There's an antiquated notion that the game is somehow special, that the game itself is an actual tangible entity beyond the games that are played--like it's a piece of antique furniture that has to be kept in a sealed vault, lest it be worn to nothing by those evil technology buffs. Tell you what--let's go back to equipment being the way it was at the start of the game in the 1880s, let's all drive Model T's to the games, or take a streetcar, and if our kids get sick because someone sneezes on them, let's leech them to try and cure their ailment, because clearly technological advancements in transportation, equipment, and medicine have all made the world a worse place. Get real.

Technology can only help the game of baseball. It can only make the game better. Want to speed it up? Create a rule prohibiting batters from stepping out for 15 seconds between pitches (that means you, Pedro). Create a pitch clock. Limit trips to the mound. Cut out any of the extraneous garbage that makes baseball more annoying and voila, you have a shorter game. Want to keep the human element? Limit managers to one challenge before the ninth inning of a game, then make all close plays subject to booth review in the 9th and beyond. The manager's discretion becomes your human element. It's not that hard, people, it really isn't.

The old guard that apparently considers themselves to be stewards of the game make it seem like they're trying to guard all that is right and pure in the world when they talk about keeping baseball special, just the way it is. In reality, they're preventing the sport from moving forward and instituting changes that would allow it more chances do the most important thing, and that's get it right.

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