There is no crying in baseball, but perhaps we'll make an exception for the San Diego Padres. Amidst the chaos of the 13-inning battle to conclude the marathon regular season in the MLB last night, we saw two exemplary plays which demand the MLB institute video replay. One such play was the games last, a monumental moment that sealed each teams fate sending the Rockies to the playoffs and the Padres to the Kleenex aisle.
This epic showdown between the Padres and the Rockies was fitting based on the stretch drive that saw the latter team grind out victories in 13 of their last 14 contests. In captivating fashion the Rockies battled from two runs behind in the bottom of the 13th inning to win. Back-to-back doubles off Padres rock-solid closer -- and all-time saves leader – Trevor Hoffman brought MVP candidate Matt Holliday to the plate. He bashed a well-hit triple that cashed the tying run and stood ninety feet away from the Rockies' playoff dreams. A sharp liner into right field off the bat of Jayme Carroll forced Holliday to tag up and chug for home. A well thrown ball from the outfield forced a play at the plate in which Matt Holliday slid in head first. A fumbled ball recovered to apply a late tag followed by an unemphatic and meager safe call lead to a Rockies win and providential bedlam in Colorado.
But Holliday missed the plate. Quite visibly according to the video replay, and thus was effectively tagged out leaving the bases empty and two men out forcing an extension to the game between two belabored clubs and their respective post-season hopes. Tragedy for the Padres, triumph for the Rockies and their home crowd, bitterness for fans of the MLB who are tired of their reluctance to embrace modern technology.
Sport isn't about tradition, fame and fortune, or community prosperity. While these things are tangibly linked to professional sport, it is not what they are all about. Pro Sports are about winning – it's not the only thing, it's everything. Why wouldn't the MLB take the required measures to ensure a fair outcome in every contest? Shouldn't the events of this epic, extra-inning play-in game be enough to prove the necessity of replay in baseball?
While pure traditionalist infesting baseball circles prefer the element of human error that has graced (or disgraced, in certain cases) the game for over a century, others arguing similarly against the use of video replay claim it will slow the game down. Clearly these individuals have a skewed conception of todays highly advanced technology. In reality, the level of intricate video analysis that can be performed nearly instantaneously today makes it a must-have for all pro sports.
Tennis is a glowing example of how fast and conclusive video replay can make a positive impact on a sport. Tennis players can now challenge calls and get their ruling within 5-10 seconds. A subtle disruption whereby the player asks for a review, and immediately gets a visualization proving where the ball landed. It's as easy as Roger Federers' domination! It is far less painless, not to mention dramtically less time consuming than watching a Manager charge out of the dugout and protest a call with the Umpire. These theatrical displays are tradition, but can be done without in a game (sadly) too long for most viewers attention span.
Those who confuse video replay for a time consuming and cumbersome process are watching too much football. In the NFL instant replay is slow by design. Yes, they WANT the video replay to take time. They draw it out to ridiculous length by requiring an on-field official to run over to the booth, get on the headset, climb inside and then -- finally -- review the play in question. Meanwhile, every angle has been shown on national TV and millions of viewers already know the right call. In nine out of ten cases of video review in the NFL, the fans know the call prior to the officials' emergence from the booth. It doesn't have to be so, but the marketing geniuses at the NFL know that it drums up drama and suspense, so they have it set up that way.
Baseball, like Tennis, should adopt a system of replay focused on ensuring quickness and avoid disruptions in our beloved pastime. So, we fix the home plate umpire with an ear piece and allow a three-man crew to review the video in the sanctity and comfort of a press box. Should a manager decide to challenge a call, the home plate umpire calls time and passes affirmative judgment the moment he receives word from his friends in the booth.
What about errant challenges and the method of challenge? The NFL penalizes the Coach who incorrectly threw the challenge flag by deducting a single time out, whereas the NHL relies on the discretion of the officiating crew for reviews, thus carrying no penalty to the team(s). The simplistic nature of baseball leaves punishment for over-challengers an issue not easily resolved, but these matters can be discussed at length over a long winter off-season when the San Diego Padres assuredly bring it to the table at the Winter Meetings.