Replay It Again, Sam!

One would never have suspected it would happen, or at least one would not have suspected such a thing as recently as last year; however, baseball – the national pastime – is about to enter the 21st century, joining its old rival, football, for fan attention…by being cursed with the "instant replay," an interesting oxymoron in that a play can never be replayed. The term is actually a euphemism for "playback," since that's all it is, a playback of a play that's been taped from several angles, the better to keep a referee or umpire honest…well, okay…accurate, correct, observant, properly located…whatever. It's being used this summer in Little League playoffs, just another catalyst for inciting idiot parents to riot and/or generally otherwise make trouble.

The intrepid and motor-mouthing play-by-play announcers and their cohorts, the oracular commentators, who laugh-it-up and discuss everything but the game much of the time, along with their partners in crime, the camera operators, have already been at this project for a few years, giving the best angle-look at a close play at first, for instance. The camera-guys zoom right in on the first thread in the toe of a first-baseman's shoe to see if it's on the bag when any thread of the runner's shoe is in the approximate vicinity. The guys in the booth then pronounce the solemn judgment as to whether or not the first-base ump called it right. After the game, the managers and players look at the tape of the play and then discuss ways of annihilating umps at all bases, without resort to AK-47s, of course.

This procedure will do for baseball what it has done for football…mostly make the games much longer, thus making the owners/concessionaires happy because the fans experience greater and greater thirst and hunger. For those who prefer the bubbly, the replays practically guarantee more fights and car-wrecks in after-game booze-inspired predispositions of fans toward mangling selves and others. The coaches are happy, since, in addition to all the commercial timeouts that make the games freakishly long anyway, they can now call for instant replays, which can take up to five minutes as someone in the booth high above pronounces judgment while the referee feigns intense staring at a hooded TV.

During the sacred replay, everyone on the field takes a rest and plots further mayhem, thus all the timeouts are saved for the last two minutes, which usually require 30 minutes to play. One wonders if the league honchos sometimes make the decisions, the better to keep losing-teams in a state of viability and thus encouraging fan–attendance (even diehard fans tire of losers).

On a given Monday evening via ESPN, after a pitch is made the techies flash above home-plate a strike-zone rectangle (unless the batter is awfully short, in which case, a square) with the arc of the ball intersecting the geometric figure so that the TV viewer can see how far wrong the plate ump's call was. Help is given by the commentator, of course, so that there's no doubt as to who was cheated, the batter or the pitcher. Since every ump's strike zone is a bit different, not to mention his vision and judgment as he contemplates what part of his anatomy is likely to be painfully pounded now and again by a foul tip, the commentator is hard-pressed not to exclaim favorably or unfavorably.

Imagine the time consumed (okay…sometimes saved, but rarely) by a disagreement among managers and umps over whether or not a fly-ball hit the wall above or below the yellow home-run line while the techies run the tape to see just what happened. If the techies disagree (or the shot was missed), about the only option left is a coin-toss, which could have been the primary method anyway. Even the most astute students of baseball insist that it's a "game of inches," so it naturally lends itself to being a game of occasional mistakes. Battles are won or lost on the basis of which side had the best aim…a circumstance involving inches. A close call at second when nobody on the field but the ump can see that the tag is a half-inch shy of the runner is a case in point. The cameras can never pick up this stuff.

Okay…the replay could keep officials honest, too. NBA basketball referee Tim Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in prison a few weeks ago for wagering on games – actually for "fixing" games. He's probably just one among others who haven't been caught. This would especially apply to plate umps, who can make or break a team's chances in a game. So…why not just do away with the pitch-calling of the plate-ump and let the machines automatically make the call, even proclaim it loudly? After all, the TV guys in the booth use the technology every game, quite often pointing out the ump's "mistake." That worthy would just be left with the responsibility of calling plays at the plate – most umps would probably go for such an arrangement that would preempt all those bruises and concussions. If they miscued on a close play with a tag in question, the techies would set it right. It's a win-win all around.

In the meantime in football, especially with the overhead traveling-camera now in place to join all the others, referees and umps could be completely banished. The software and computers would take care of everything from establishing and keeping scores…to which play it is…to what penalty…to which player is guilty…to what time to stop play for commercials, with all info boomed over the loudspeakers. The games would go much faster. No one would have to carry the yard markers, since that yellow line that's been used on TV for years would always mark the spot and the camera would laser-beam the ball-placement position, with the quarterback responsible for putting the pigskin on the spot. A keypad could be at each bench, with all possibilities on it such as whether or not to accept a penalty, and the coach could just punch in the info, though that might be a bit harrowing for those who are not computer-literate. A game might last 2.5 hours, and that would be worth the mechanization…no bothersome replays!

Yeah…replay it again, Sam. Some day, the players will probably join the umps and refs in being outsourced to the computers and only the cheerleaders will be left…no danger of replacing them.