Rowley: Upon further review, we will never be happy with instant replay

From SABR member Meg Rowley at Baseball Prospectus on May 2, 2016:

Early last week, Yonder Alonso was called out trying to steal second in the top of the second inning. He was initially called safe, but forensic replaying showed he came off the bag just a little bit for just a little bit. The Blue Jays challenged, and Alonso was called out. And then some folks got a little bit grumpy.

We had to have replay in baseball because we could see, in super high definition, when a guy beat out the throw at first but was called out. And we would boo and cry because that was dumb. The league was out to get us. The umpires were incompetent, we cried. It undermined the credibility of the game, because we knew the result on the field was wrong and were forced to live with it. We will put up with a degree of human error, but not if we have to see it. Even though the moment itself doesn’t change, somehow knowing that the call was wrong (it’s just wrong!) changes the character of the moment. It transfigures it into something pointed, something malicious, something sinister. This isn’t human failing. This is bias.

So we embraced technology, and got the problem Sam Miller, Ben Lindbergh and Jason Wojciechowski talked about on Effectively Wild last week: a thing we didn’t know was happening (coming off the bag by a little bit for a little bit) or didn’t care was happening was exposed and became a thing teams could use to get outs. We got replays in key moments, where quick thinking and quick feet lost out to teeny, tiny millimeters. And now we all boo and cry when they do because it seems dumb, or at least overly fastidious, to punish a runner (who is doing a fun and exciting thing) for the way physics works. It takes the thing we say we ought to be enjoying (Fun! Boldness! Speed! Stealth!) and subordinates it to bureaucracy, and niggling. It shifts the focus away from the brilliant moment, and instead centers the story on the yada yada yada.

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Originally published: May 6, 2016. Last Updated: May 6, 2016.