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Instant replay is changing baseball

The manager-umpire showdown is a venerable part of the game. Here, John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox is ejected by umpire Bob Davidson after arguing a call during a game against the Yankees.

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The manager-umpire showdown is a venerable part of the game. Here, John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox is ejected by umpire Bob Davidson after arguing a call during a game against the Yankees.

The year-old instant replay system in baseball has been highly controversial, with many supporters and many opponents. The sport is attempting to shy away from its more traditional roots by using the modern technology that is employed in football and basketball.

The chief motto of Major League Baseball in this pursuit is that its wish is to "get the call right." However, many fans fear that use of instant replay has detracted from the overall appeal of the game and do not believe that it will be a beneficial change for spectators in the long run.

I have reviewed the pros and cons of the instant replay system. The statistics in the article were retrieved from fivethirtyeight.com, a sports website affiliated with ESPN, and Retrosheet, a baseball stats website.

The pros

The main pros of the instant replay system lie in its ability to ensure that baseball calls are made correctly, and there are no errors to alter the final score of the game. The team managers are given power over calls, thus have an additional task during baseball games: deciding when to use their one challenge.

As of the final month in the 2014 regular season, there were 1,130 challenges by managers. Of these 1,130 challenges, 529 led to the overturning of a call. This is a 47 percent clip, which is interesting considering that managers initiated 83 percent of these challenges.

This means that the new instant replay system has allowed the managers more input into the calls and allowed the game results to be more accurate. The plays that get challenged the most include force and tag plays, home runs and home plate collisions. This pattern coincides with the events that transpired before instant replay: these were the most debated and influential plays on the flow of the game.

Force plays were overturned 259 times and confirmed 73 times, with 134 calls "standing" — meaning there wasn't enough evidence to overturn them. Tag plays were overturned 183 times, with 75 confirmed and 122 standing. Not as many calls on home runs (21, vs. 43 and 21) and home plate collisions (12, vs. 57 and 11) were overturned, but a significant number on each was.

These statistics illustrate the importance of having instant replay in the effort to get the calls right.

The cons

The cons of the instant replay system center on time — in any sport, the primary concern of replay is the delay that occurs as a result. However, most proponents of the instant replay system argue that the average challenge lasts for only one minute and 48 seconds, and there are only 0.48 challenges per game on average. So, replay challenges add an average of 52 seconds per game, which does not seem like a substantial number.

Unfortunately, in the 2014 baseball season, the challenges altogether occupied 2,031 minutes, which equates to about 1.4 days of time. Numbers show that the number of challenges rises as the game goes on, with the majority of challenges occurring in the ninth and 10th innings. This can potentially irritate and even bore the audience, as the game is slowed and delayed during the times when the excitement is the most intense.

Furthermore, the instant replay system has dramatically altered the baseball culture. Mets fan Jerry Seinfeld recently told ESPN that getting the call right is not a priority for himself and other fans. Instead, he claims that replay has led to the loss of baseball's "human element": the "futile, frustrated managerial tirade."

This change in aesthetics threatens to derail the sport in the long term — fans of the traditional form of America's game may suffer from the modernization that it is struggling to undergo.

Final verdict

From the accumulated information, it is clear that the Major League Baseball instant replay system has more pros than cons. The drawbacks of the system are primarily apparent in the alterations of the aesthetics of the sport: fans are concerned that the frustration of players and managers, which they have found amusement in for so long, will be removed from the game. This may be true, but the sport of baseball is sure to transform itself and include instant replay in a way that audiences find appropriate. The cost of adding less than a minute per game to ensure that it is officiated correctly is tantalizing, and is well worth the loss of visual enjoyment and time that accompanies it.

Instant replay is changing baseball 05/13/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 5:00pm]
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