The benefit that the advancement of technology has provided to sports in the last few decades cannot be overstated — if you don’t believe me, watch a Wimbledon match from the ‘90s and try to spot the ball during a rally. With seemingly infinite angles, crystal clear video quality and robotic cameras moving along with the players, it has never been easier to watch your favorite teams, nor has it ever been easier for LeBron James to post a slideshow of his most recent dunk on Instagram.
However, the integration of technology into sports hasn’t always been as universally accepted among fans. A prime example of this is the backlash that Major League Baseball is seeing from fans who are fed up with the strange intricacies and inaccuracies of baseball’s replay review system.
The MLB introduced instant replay review in 2008, and its implementation has been controversial, to say the least.
First, there are stringent rules on which calls are reviewable. According to the MLB glossary, a judgment call cannot be reviewed, but determining which calls are based on judgment can be an incredibly subjective decision in and of itself. Though some calls are more clear-cut than others, there is always going to be a degree of judgment in close calls. In many cases, even after looking at the available camera angles for what feels like an hour, it seems like deciding safe or out is guesswork.
In addition, there are many instances where an umpire makes a “subjective” call, and upon review, it is clear that he erred in his judgment. With the luxury of slow-motion replay, it seems ridiculous that any call made in the heat of the game should be frozen in place, unreviewable even in the most outrageous cases.
An excellent example of this very issue came up as recently as May 19 when Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner was called out for interfering with a throw despite running perfectly in the basepath. Anyone who saw the play knew the call was wrong, but there was no way to review it because an interference call is based on judgment.
This isn’t where the list of complaints with baseball’s review system ends. Another issue that has plagued both baseball and basketball is the time it takes to review a call. Oftentimes, the process of reviewing can take so long that it detracts from the pace of play and the quality of the product these major leagues are televising.
This is an especially relevant concern for the MLB, whose executives know that the game needs to move faster to hold the interest of a younger audience.
In the MLB, for a review system that often takes so long — one that forces ESPN to show national viewers an uninterrupted broadcast of three umpires wearing chunky headphones and listening to someone poring over the many camera angles in New York — many people feel that the results are not remotely accurate enough.
Because an inconclusive call will default to the original decision made by the umpires on the field, disputed calls are often maintained. But if the call on the field is the very thing being called into question, why should that be the reference point? For this reason, baseball’s review system has been criticized endlessly this season, and a change needs to be made.
The advancement of technology has introduced the possibility of increased precision in major sports, but it has also added a new layer of difficulty. Sometimes, the fans might favor the spirit of the rule over what’s technically correct, and sometimes they just want to watch the game.
Until the problems facing replay review systems are sorted out, we may be stuck watching umpires standing around, wearing headphones for a bit longer.
Contact Zachary Hall at [email protected].