02 October 2007

Replay it Again, Sam!

There is a reason I have become less and less of a baseball fan. As I watched the riveting Padres-Rockies one-game playoff, it really hit me why that is.

I just can't stand a sport that accepts egregious (and correctable) mistakes by its officials as just "part of the game."

Matt Holliday most definitely didn't touch the plate to score the winning run, yet Tim McClellan, whose strike zone was shifting like a moving target all night, called him safe after, apparently, replaying it in his head for about five seconds. Oh, yes, Rockies fans point out that Garrett Atkins definitely hit a home run, not a double, so Colorado was owed one. Uh, but two wrongs don't make it right.

It speaks volumes to the officiating incompetence that in the biggest regular season game of the year, with six umpires (instead of the usual four) on hand, that they got two crucial calls wrong. Remember that baseball is a static game, no action of significance is taking place away from where the ball is. There are no linemen grappling for space in the trenches. No power forwards jockeying for position under the basket. No goalie hacking a winger on the shins to get him out of the crease.

Six umpires to follow one ball. Officiating in baseball is on the level of tennis, not like contact sports -- football, basketball, hockey. Yet the umpires get it wrong all the time at the biggest moments. Jeffrey Maier most definitely interfered with Tony Tarasco. Todd Worrell's foot most definitely was on the bag before Jorge Orta got there. Josh Paul didn't drop that third strike. I could go on.

But what you hear from those damn "baseball purists" was that "the human element" is part of the game. Yes, for the players. But for the officials, in any sporting contest, the job is to get it right and be fair. And if that involves using a replay system, so be it.

Football uses replay. So do basketball and hockey, and even tennis and golf! Yes, a game as tradition-dependent and archaic as golf uses TV replays to determine if a player had committed an infraction when that question is brought to light. And while replays are not perfect, they do eliminate a lot of mistakes when judgments are made in a split second.

Oh, but not baseball. Not ever. The fat, slow and ill-tempered umpires wouldn't have any of it, for fear that replay would expose them for the frauds that they are. Following a white ball with your eyes really isn't nearly as hard as running a 120-yard field with 300-pound big men rumbling around with their hands and feet tangled almost at all times. But if you ever listened to these arrogant buffoons, they'd try to convince you that's it's as difficult as nuclear science.

So there you have it. "The Human Element" will continue to make a mockery of what once was the national pastime. But I'll just watch football instead.

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