Thursday, June 03, 2010

More on replay

I told you that there were arguments against the instant replay policy I advocated earlier. Here are some of them from Fred Schwarz.
What if last night’s game had ended a little differently, with the runner being called out on a close play, and the Tigers had poured out onto the field and mobbed Galarraga, and then two minutes later the review guy had said, “Wait, he was safe.” Does anyone want to see that? (I know Rich does, but does anyone else?)
In that particular case? No. But that's less offensive than what we actually saw. And, frankly, it's less offensive than leaving him with a perfect game when one of the batters actually reached safely. So, while the aesthetics described here aren't great, they are better than a couple of the aesthetics we have now, when everyone knows a mistake was made except the guy who made it, and he's the only one that can correct it.

If reviews were done with a challenge system, as in football, what if the Tigers had already used up their challenges in last night’s game?
Instant Replay is not the same thing as Managerial Challenge.
Instant Replay does not need to depend on a Managerial Challenge.
Instant Replay and "challenge system" are not synonyms.

I agree that the challenge system is, well, significantly flawed. I think it's a terrible idea, and won't defend it.

Of course, it would still be better than the current system...
And unlimited challenges would be even worse, because any video-review system, especially one based on challenges, will only make games longer. Managers will use their challenges when there’s even the slightest chance of a reversal, or just to break the opposing pitcher’s rhythm or give their bullpen more time to warm up.
Thank you for correctly identifying some of the reasons that NO ONE is advocating a system of unlimited managerial challenges. Unless I've missed something. Is someone out there proposing a system with unlimited managerial challenges?

I thought not. Straw. Man. Even Major League Baseball wouldn't be so oblivious as to institute a system like that, not for more than a couple of games. Arguing against it is pointless, as there are no legitimate arguments for it.

But Instant Replay and "challenge system" are not synonyms. Arguing that a system of unlimited managerial challenges is a bad idea says nothing whatsoever about the virtues of other different replay systems.
Reversals in baseball can create more problems than they solve.
They certainly cause different problems. That doesn't mean more and it certainly doesn't mean more serious.
What if the umpire calls a ball foul and video shows it was fair? (Other than a home run, I mean.) Will he have to guess whether the third baseman would have thrown the batter out, or whether it would have been a double or a triple?
Yes, they'd need to institute rules to deal with that scenario. It could be a ground rule double, as when a ball bounces into the seats and everyone gets two bases, or it could treated like a "fan interference" double, where the umpire's discretion determines where any baserunners end up.

But for that complaint to be a legitimate argument against a replay system, you have to make the case that one of those scenarios is somehow worse than the current situation, where an umpire calls a fair ball foul and the batter pops out on the next pitch.
Or suppose there’s a runner on first with no outs, and he takes off for second on a 3-2 pitch. The ump calls the pitch a ball, but the review says strike. How can the umpire decide whether the runner would have been safe at second?
In the first place, a runner stealing second should be going hard all the way to the base, because there's already a scenario (check-swing) in which the umpire might make the call after a throw beats the runner. But again, this is an argument against that which no one is proposing. No one, that I'm aware of, thinks that we ought to have a replay official calling balls and strikes. It's a straw man. There are technological solutions to the ball/strike issue, but they don't involve umpires huddling around a video monitor after every pitch.
Baseball is full of contingent situations like this, where reversing a call would require an umpire to become clairvoyant.
No one disputes that there would need to be rules changes or additions to deal with new situations. That's a poor reason not to do something that would improve the game.
As with all review systems, video will not resolve the question;
It will certainly resolve some of them. It would have resolved that one last night.
instead, it will just create a new question of whether the reversal (or failure to reverse) was correct. ... Standards like “indisputable visual evidence” are meaningless, because there is no bright line between “probable” and “definite.”
This is a legitimate point. It is, in fact, the single strongest argument against instituting a system of replay. I don't think it comes close to being adequate, but it is certainly a valid point.
Putting it in “movement” terms, video review is not conservative. The sudden upsurge of enthusiasm for reform rests on a handful of dramatic cases, while ignoring the wider problems that it would create; it shows a touching faith in the capacity of experts and rules to remake the world and eliminate all difficulties (video reviews would be kept “expeditious” by fiat, and “unnecessary delays” would be eliminated by magic, just like cutting “waste and fraud” from the budget); and it seeks to i. the e. (for you readers, that’s NR slang for “immanentize the eschaton”) by piling on layers of bureaucracy and fancy techno-fixes that will only burn up time, add expense, and create confusion.
First, let me say that would be a far more compelling statement if he hadn't started with the touchy-feely observation that it would have been better to leave him with an undeserved perfect game than correct an obvious mistake.

I'm a fundamentally conservative person, and I have sympathy with this argument. I have written, often, of my concern about utopians, that is, those who would "immanentize the eschaton." And I've always been a fan of Buckley's description of a conservative as one who "stands athwart history, yelling 'stop!'" But I'm a fan of progress, too, and if there's a better way to do something today than there was yesterday, we ought to look at it. We ought be cautious about it, but "stop" just for "stop's" sake would have us all living in darkness. I have candles in my home, but I use my electric lights to read by. I've got an almanac by my bed, but use google far more often.
G.K. Chesterton once said that
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
I love that. I'm a huge believer in the law of unintended consequences.

All that said, the fact is that we know why this particular fence is across this particular road. When the game began, this was the very best way to enforce the rules. The number and position of the umpires have changed over the years, but putting an impartial arbiter on the field has been the best, the only way to ensure that the players follow the rules, and that we have confidence in the outcomes.

That is no longer the case. In 1950, there weren't high speed, high definition cameras aimed at all of the spots on the field. The technology didn't exist to seriously challenge the authority of the umpires. But now it does. Why is there an "upsurge" in concern? Because now, everyone in the world knows, before Galarraga makes it back to the mound, than Joyce screwed up. It may be "conservative" to leave obviously correctable mistakes alone, but it isn't good conservative. Many things that happen in this world are wrong and can't be corrected. But some can, and where there's both ability and reason to do so, there needs to be a good reason not to. Fred hasn't produced any.
In other words, video review is the Obamacare of baseball.
It would be an understatement to call that an overstatement...

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