An Alternative To Instant Replay

Just as it does every year at about this time, instant replay is becoming an issue in baseball. Perhaps though, there is another option that baseball is already somewhat familiar with.

The general managers of the 30 MLB teams are gathering in Orlando this week to tackle a few issues, talk to some agents and generally start cranking up the heat on the Hot Stove League. They started strong out of the gate the other day when they voted 25-5 in favor of a limited replay system for baseball. The vote doesn't do a whole lot other than put the GMs on record as preferring an instant replay system that would be used to determine whether a home run ball is fair or foul and perhaps most importantly, whether a fan interfered with the ball. If commissioner Selig gives the go-ahead - and it's not a definite that he will - there could be a detailed draft of the plan at the next GM meetings in December and if that passes, the issue will grow official legs.

While fans generally support the use of some limited replays, traditionalists insist that umpires - and the human error that they bring with them - are part of the game. Technology, schmecknology say some.

In an effort to appease both the traditionalists who prefer to live and die with umpires and the neo-fans, who have been brought up in the age of super enhanced replays on TV and the internet, may we suggest an idea that will help umpires to get the call right, but not allow technology to creep any further into the game.

The solution to the umpires is... more umpires.

The post-season sees six umpires used for each game. Two outfield umps handle calls on plays in the outfield and while even that doesn't guarantee full coverage and no mistakes (here is where you insert the obligatory Jeffrey Maier incident from the 1996 ALCS between Baltimore and the New York Yankees) it makes it much better. If it didn't, why would baseball add umpires for the postseason?

The two extra umpires could patrol the outfield with the sole duty of watching for just such plays that replay would be brought into the game to cover. After all, twelve eyes are better than eight.

And yes, we could still use the same replay plan if anyone insists, but at least with more umpires, the need for it would be diminished and it would be relied upon less than it would be with the standard crew.

If there is a downside, it's that Major League Baseball would have to find 30 new umpires to cover all the games. Considering that there is a scarcity of really good umpires now, this is where the idea hits a true snag. Compared to instant replay that would possibly employ one more umpire, who would be in a video booth somewhere around the press box, the postseason umpiring model is much more cumbersome.

When you think about it though, isn't the disparity in the number of umpires used in regular season games and postseason games a little odd. Sure, it's the postseason and it's for all of those pretty little proverbial marbels, but aren't regular season games important? For instance, the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies tied for the NL Wild Card. If San Diego lost just one game during the regular season because of a blown call, it wound up costing them a spot in the playoffs.

Traditionalists will use the argument that it all evens out and teams both win and lose because of bad calls, but isn't getting it right what really matters? If there is a system, whether it's adding qualified umpires or using instant replay to help get things right, it's worth exploring. The biggest fear is that the game will be umpired by a bunch of computers or technological gadgets, but that's not what anybody is asking for. Balls and strikes, safe or out, a fair or foul ground ball and many other routine plays should never be taken from umpires. There needs to be some care taken with instant replay and it can't ever be invasive. Baseball is a traditional game and should remain that way, which is exactly why baseball needs to proceed slowly and carefully and possibly explore other options that might achieve the same goal as instant replay. That goal? Just getting it right.

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