Nothing is more baseball-esque than having a passionate debate with a family member, friend, or misguided fan of the wrong team about everything from whether ballpark dimensions should be standardized across the league, to whether MLB should increase, decrease, or outright eliminate the use of instant replay.
The latter is a particularly incendiary topic that is currently occupying a great deal of territory on the baseball debate landscape.
As with all debates worthy of the term, there is no clear-cut answer to the instant replay question. According to Marvin Benard, a former major league outfielder who spent nine seasons with the San Francisco Giants from 1995-2003, here are the pros and cons that need to be considered before you reach your own conclusion.
Instant Replay Pros
Getting Calls Right
Instant replay is the last line of defense to confirm controversial ruling on the field, and determine factors such as potential fan interference, whether a ball left the stadium or hit the top of the wall, whether a fielder caught or trapped a sinking line drive, and so on.
Marvin Benard, who later went on to work as part of the broadcast crew for the Giants’ Spanish-language radio broadcasts, says it’s not an exaggeration to say that at the professional level, getting a call right or wrong has far-reaching implications. This is not just in reference to plays in the postseason.
A blown or missed call in April, May or June could cost a team a critical game that ultimately keeps them out of the postseason. When that happens, managers and front office executives can get fired, players can get traded, coveted free agents can choose to sign elsewhere, and so on. It’s not a small deal.
The Technology Exists
Folks who endorse instant replay in baseball — and there is a growing army of them, including plenty of ex-players and ex-managers who still nurse wounds triggered by blown calls (e.g. the Cardinals’ Joe Orta ruled safe at first in the 1985 World Series, the Tigers’ Armando Galaragga losing a perfect game in the 9th inning during the 2010 season, missing the fan interference in the 1996 ALCS that cost Baltimore the win, and the notorious list goes on) all agree on one point: instant replay technology already exists, and so refusing to use it is not just stubborn, but it’s senselessly anachronistic.
According to Marvin Benard, the argument here is that it’s not as if instant replay is some untested and experimental technology that exists in a research laboratory. In fact, instant replay made its broadcast debut in 1963 during an Army-Navy football game.
Advocates believe — and they have a compelling point — that not using instant reply to its full value is like trying to turn back the clock. It just can’t be done and simply should not be tried.
Instant Replay Cons
Prolonged Pace of Play
While baseball is not alone in trying to speed things up, the sport is a particularly easy target when it comes to pace-of-play criticisms. All of those warm-up pitches, mound visits, and time outs in the batter’s box and on the mound — not to mention the commercial break between each half-inning — add up and prolong the viewer’s experience. Instant replay additionally prolongs the delay between pitches and plays, which is a recipe for fan disengagement.
One of the potential changes that even instant replay advocates are calling for, is forcing teams to decide if they want to challenge a play within seconds. Right now — and quite wisely, if you look at it from their point of view — teams are using all kinds of creative delay tactics to go over a play from different angles before they ultimately decide to challenge it.
This is not just painful for people watching on TV, but it’s agonizing for folks in the stands who have to wait around for several minutes before play resumes. Yes, once in a while in really big games and at pivotal moments, this edge-of-your-seat drama can be very exciting and compelling. But for the most part, it’s just boring and exactly the opposite of what fans want.
It’s Not Perfect
Perhaps the most convincing argument against using — or at least, expanding — instant replay in baseball, is that the practice is far from perfect; even with high definition cameras and multiple angles.
Marvin Benard explains that this aspect has really emphasized the importance of the call on the field. If the call appears to be wrong, unless the instant replay officials believe they have clear evidence to the contrary, they can’t overturn the call.
Even if in their gut they want to, or if tens of thousands of fans in the stands are screaming for them to do so, they are tied to that original call. Ultimately, what this means is that no matter what happens with instant replay, some calls — not all of them, but many of them — will still be controversial and subjective.
Instant reply can minimize the volume of these situations, but it can’t eliminate it. Marvin Benard states, “We’re dealing with messy reality here, not a video game.”