The Paw Print
One of the more memorable moments in recent Major League Baseball history is the “28-out Perfect Game.” In MLB history, only 23 pitchers have thrown a perfect game, with no pitcher repeating the feat. A perfect game occurs when a pitcher throws a complete nine inning game without allowing a single batter to reach base. 27 up, 27 down.
Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was on his way to completing such a feat on June 2, 2010. Galarraga had pitched 8⅔ perfect innings and needed only one more out to go down in perfect game history. For what appeared to be a simple play, first baseman Miguel Cabrera fielded a groundball and tossed it to Galarraga who was covering first base. People began to celebrate as they thought Galarraga had completed the incredible accomplishment. Clearly, the ball had beaten the runner to the base. Umpire Jim Joyce, however, called the runner safe. Galarraga went on to retire the next batter, completing what is now known as the “28-out Perfect Game.”
For Galarraga, his teammates, and even Joyce, the call was clearly a mistake. Looks at the replay showed beyond a doubt that the runner was out and Galarraga had in fact been perfect that night. Instances like this botched call awakened the long debated question: Should there be instant replay in baseball? In years past, the answer has been no, excepting for review of questionable homerun calls. But, even in situations like Galarraga’s where replay would not have affected the outcome of the game, it is easy to see how instant replay can be appealing.
This year, Major League Baseball has instituted some changes in their instant replay policy. Beginning this season, team managers receive one challenge each game. If the manager’s challenge is successful, that manager is awarded an additional challenge. The rule changes also open up a wide range of plays that can be reviewed, beyond homerun calls. Umpires are also encouraged to review plays in the 7th inning or later. All instant replays are reviewed by an umpire crew in New York.
So far, in baseball’s return to action under the new rules, there have been several reviewed plays and even some overturned rulings. These uses of challenges and replay have proved to be critical at some points, affecting the score of the game and arguably affecting game outcomes. The challenge becomes to the manager like an extra 5-tool player on the bench waiting to come in an tip the scales in the team’s favor.
There is a new type of strategy that accompanies manager challenges. Already, we’ve seen managers go out to argue with an ump on the call, all while constantly referring back to the dugout to see if they do want to challenge the play. Then when they decide not to challenge, they calming end their argument and walk away.
A certain element of the game gets lost amid all of the officials and reviews. We lose the possibility of seeing managers use any means possible to argue their case about a call. There will be no base-throwing, red-in-the-face explosions. There will be no manager meltdowns simply because replay makes calls indisputable. You can’t argue video evidence.
One of the more debated replay calls so far occurred only days into the season between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves. Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond’s hit to deep left field that got stuck under the wall became an issue of debate when the play was reviewed. Desmond had originally scored on the play because the play was not stopped when Brave’s left fielder Justin Upton said he was unable to retrieve the stuck ball. As he saw the play continuing, Upton grabbed the ball but couldn’t make a throw in time. Upon review, the play was overturned and Desmond was instead awarded a ground-rule double, taking away what the Nationals had thought was a game tying run.
In instances like this, it’s hard not to see how much of an impact instant replay can have. The Nationals went on to lose the ballgame 2-1, but we have to wonder if the outcome would have been different without replay. If the call had not been overturned and Desmond’s run had counted, would the momentum swing have helped the Nationals come out on top? The answer is not clear.
What is clear is that Major League Baseball is changing. Though these new replay rules are only a small change, now that the door for replay in baseball has been opened, it is only a matter of time before replay runs the game.
For baseball fans, this realization comes with mixed feelings. Sure it will be great to have poor calls overturned in big moments to favor your team. For Armando Galarraga, his teammates, and Tigers fans, instant replay would have solved the heartache of a blown call. It would have changed history. But in adding instant replay to baseball, we are changing history beyond the record books. We are changing America’s pastime at a fundamental level. A game that has so long been perfect in its imperfection, will soon be regulated by the policies and procedures of instant replay.
Instant replay will never be perfect. It attempts to solve human error but still leaves calls to slow-mo and human judgment. However, even in situations like Galarraga’s where replay would not have affected the outcome of the game, it is easy to see how instant replay can be appealing. As a baseball fan, I can say I don’t like it. For the baseball community, only time will tell if it was a good call to revamp baseball’s instant replay or if the MLB blew it.